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Saturday 30 October 2021

‘A Murder Inside’ by Frances Brody

Published by Little Brown,
28 October 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-349-42310-4 (PB)

Nell Lewis has been working in the Prison Service for eighteen years because she believed that it would give her a better chance of promotion than her original choice of the Police Force. This career choice has been justified and, in 1969, she faces her greatest opportunity, and her greatest challenge, when she is appointed Deputy Governor at the newly established Brackerley Open Prison for Women. Nell knows this is not going to be an easy task: Brackerley has been a borstal for boys, and it will be difficult to redecorate the facilities to make them suitable for the new residents, especially with little time and on a limited budget. Even more worrying is the fact that the borstal has just been involved in a corruption scandal, which resulted in a prison officer being sent to prison. The male officer who had reported the corruption is still at Brackerley when Nell arrives, although he is due to be transferred to a male prison, as are most of the male prison staff who had worked at the boys’ borstal. Nell also has the problem of dealing tactfully with the current Governor, Governor Harding, an elderly ex-army officer, who is regarded with affection and respect by all of the remaining Brackerley prison officers. Harding is due to retire in the near future, but Nell is concerned about his ill health and alcoholism and she fears that he has been turning a blind eye to misdemeanours by some of his corrupt officers. Despite all these complications, Nell is determined to turn Brackerley into a positive place where women learn to rebuild their lives so that they can re-enter the outside world with the skills to earn their own living.

There are two viewpoint characters: the central one is Nell Lewis, and the other is Linda Rogers. Linda is a young university student who was convicted of murdering a middle-aged man, the father of another student, who had apparently wandered by error into her room. Linda pleaded guilty, which meant that the truth about the death had never been fully explored. Linda has become quite institutionalised and is afraid of this new move to greater autonomy but, as she settles in with the three other women who are the first residents of the open prison, she begins to regain confidence and face the truth about what had happened to her in the past.

Despite her concerns, Nell is pleased with the initial progress as she attempts to turn the female prison staff into a cohesive and enthusiastic team who are dedicated to making Brackerley a positive place for the residents. Just as she thinks all is beginning to go well, she discovers a body in the prison grounds, and it is evident that he did not die a natural death. While the police are still investigating, a fresh crisis occurs when one of the new residents goes missing. Nell is sure she knows where the young woman is headed and she is determined to recover her before she wrecks her chances of a more positive future, however, returning her absconding prisoner to Brackerley proves far more hazardous than Nell anticipates.

A Murder Inside is the first in a new series featuring Nell Lewis. The historical detail is superb, recalling a time that has much in common with the present day but also many differences in attitude, lifestyle and technology. The details about the prison service, the setting up of the new open prison and the relationships between the prison officers are fascinating and totally convincing. The plot is well-paced and cleverly constructed. Nell is an engaging protagonist, strong but compassionate and with an overwhelming sense of justice; and Linda is vulnerable, sensitive and damaged, but with an inner core of resilience. A Murder Inside is the start of an exciting new series. It is a page-turner that I thoroughly recommend.

Reviewer: Carol Westron

Frances Brody
is a pseudonym of Frances McNeil who lives in Leeds where she was born and grew up. She worked in the USA as a secretary in Washington DC and New York. Frances studied at Ruskin College, Oxford and read English Literature and History at York University. Starting her writing life in radio, she has written scripts for television and theatre. Frances turned to crime for her first novel, Dying in the Wool, set on the outskirts of Bradford, Yorkshire in the 1920s.  Eight further books have followed featuring Kate Shackleton.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.
To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

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