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Wednesday 15 June 2022

‘A Book of Murder’ by Victoria Dowd

Published by Joffe Books,
5 May 2022.

The Smart Women, Ursula Smart, her mother, Pandora and Aunt Charlotte and friend Bridget are invited to No Man’s Fort, the island retreat of acclaimed crime writer, Antony Lovell. The grand occasion is the launch of his latest Sheridan Le Foy mystery. The guest list includes all the leading crime novelists, his ex-wife, his brother, his agent and publisher plus the head of the Anthony Lovell fan club.

The highlight of the evening is the preparation of the puffer fish by two professional fugu chefs for the evening meal. The poisonous innards are removed and placed in a box in the private kitchen.

At dinner that evening, Anthony manages to alienate almost all of his guests. He has decided to drop his long-time agent and publisher, cut out his brother who is his biographer and advisor and replace him with an ex-CID officer, and much to the chagrin of the head of his fan club, kill off the protagonist of his long running series in his latest book.

When Anthony dies that night from fugu poison, evidence from the CCTV cameras indicate that no strangers managed to get on the island. The murder had to have been committed by someone at the dinner. There are plenty of motives, but only one person had the opportunity – his wife Penelope.

The scenes alternate between Penelope’s trial in the Old Bailey and flashbacks to the fatal events of the day of the launch.

In many respects, this is a modern-day traditional locked room mystery awash with red herrings, but with additional decidedly quirky characters. Even the sanest among them, the narrator, Ursula Smart sees the ghost of her dead father who constantly tells her that danger looms. Dark humour shines through on every page.

I found it totally engaging and very hard to put down, especially the final ten chapters where the story races to its unexpected climax. Thoroughly satisfying. I look forward to reading more in this series.

Reviewer: Judith Cranswick

Victoria Dowd was born and raised in Yorkshire and after studying at Cambridge, went on to be a successful criminal law barrister for many years.  Victoria’s debut crime novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder (published by Joffe Books) is the first part of a dark, humorous crime series that is a modern take on the Golden Age of crime fiction and authors such Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey. She is an award-winning short story writer, winning the Gothic Fiction prize for short fiction 2019 by Go Gothic. Victoria has had short stories published in BTS Literary and Arts Annual, Gold Dust magazine and also by Stairwell books in their literary and arts journal Dream Catcher. Her work has also been selected for publication in an anthology entitled A Ghostly Challenge. She speaks at various literary festivals, most recently in Bath, and at various schools and book groups.

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!’ Her most recent book is Peril in Persia.

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