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Monday 22 November 2021

‘The Crystal Crypt’ by Fiona Veitch Smith

Published by Lion Fiction,
19th November 2021.
ISBN 978-178264-3593

Poppy Denby now firmly established in her role as the arts and entertainment editor for The Daily Globe, is writing a new monthly column on women in the workplace. As a female reporter in 1920’s London, it’s a subject dear to her heart. When Poppy accompanies a friend to a lecture on X-ray crystallography, she is impressed by one of the women scientists who she feels would make an excellent subject for her column. There she bumps into an old acquaintance, Sophie Blackburn who tells Poppy she is working in a similar field in Oxford and she believes that her colleague, was murdered although the death was registered as an accident. Sophie wants Poppy to investigate.

Sophie had been engaged to Bob Issacs who was The Daily Globe’s political editor and died in mysterious circumstances five years earlier on Poppy’s first day working for the paper. After Issacs’ death, Sophie had a mental breakdown and went into a sanatorium and Poppy is not sure that given the situation, she should trust Sophie’s conviction especially when there is no evidence to support her claim.

Poppy decides to head for Oxford with the blessing of The Globe’s editor, Rollo Rollason to see if there is any truth in Sophie’s story using the pretext that she is researching Dr Leighton’s career for her women-in-the-workplace column. Poppy discovers that her male colleagues in the lab have made June’s life difficult with one even stealing her work and publishing it under his own name with the full approval of the Lab’s director.

Fiona Veitch Smith’s fast-paced easy style makes compelling reading drawing the reader into a complex plot with a great many twists and turns, plenty of red herrings and fascinating subplots to a satisfying ending. (And no, I didn’t guess the murderer.)

The story lays bare a great many of the prejudices against women, people of colour, those with mental illness and physical limitations prevalent in the period – many of which still exist today – without any sense of preaching. A rare gift.

Despite a large cast of characters, each one is so well drawn that there is never any confusion. Apart from feisty, if somewhat naïve Poppy, one of my favourites characters is the paper’s editor Rollo, an American dwarf without any hang-ups.

The setting is so well drawn, I could picture Poppy’s journeys through Oxford every step of the way. A great read. I loved it and can’t wait to read the next in this compulsive series.

Reviewer: Judith Cranswick  

Fiona Veitch Smith is the author of the Poppy Denby Investigates novels, Golden Age-style murder mysteries set in the 1920s (Lion Fiction). The first book, The Jazz Files, was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger, while subsequent books have been shortlisted for the Foreword Review Mystery Novel of the Year and the People’s Book Prize. Book 5, The Art Fiasco, is out now. Fiona lives with her husband and teenage daughter in Newcastle upon Tyne. She works part time for the Crime Writers' Association and is the Deputy Editor of Red Herrings magazine.

Judith Cranswick  was born and brought up in Norwich. Apart from writing, Judith’s great passions are travel and history. Both have influenced her two series of mystery novels. Tour Manager, Fiona Mason takes coach parties throughout Europe, and historian Aunt Jessica is the guest lecturer accompanying tour groups visiting more exotic destinations aided by her nephew Harry. Her published novels also include several award-winning standalone psychological thrillers. She wrote her first novel (now languishing in the back of a drawer somewhere) when her two children were toddlers, but there was little time for writing when she returned to her teaching career. Now retired, she is able to indulge her love of writing and has begun a life of crime! ‘Writers are told to write what they know about, but I can assure you, I've never committed a murder. I'm an ex-convent school headmistress for goodness sake!’

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