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Wednesday 31 August 2022

‘Shadow of the Past’ by Judith Cutler

Published by Allison & Busby,
25 August 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-7941-3 (HB)

 I opened this book with keen anticipation since I have enjoyed many of Judith Cutler’s contemporary detective novels very much.  They have all, I think, featured female protagonists so I was interested to see from the blurb that this book is told by a male character.   This is the first historical crime fiction volume of hers that I have seen although I can see that it is the second in a series.

In 1812 Tobias Campion, rector of Moreton St Jude, welcomes to his parish the widowed Lady Chase who owns Moreton Hall, one of the great houses in that neighbourhood.  Lady Chase is sorrowed by the fact that her son, Hugo, went missing after a skirmish before the battle of Talavera (1808) in the Peninsular War.   Despite strenuous efforts to find him nothing has been discovered.  Soon after the arrival of Lady Chase her putative heir, Sir Marcus Bramhall, and his family make a prolonged and unwelcome visit to the Hall.  Sir Marcus speaks of bringing a court case to declare himself the heir but Lady Chase is reluctant to admit that her son is dead. 

The story rolls on as a body is discovered and a woman disappears.  Tobias is an endearing character with a genuine religious calling and an empathy for the poor that belies his high class origins.   The historical setting is very well done for example the transport issues of the day are smoothly explained as part of the tale.  Class differences come clearly into focus – the anomalous situation of a governess is much to the fore.  Tobias must move between the different worlds of the rural poor, the urban poor, the aristocracy and those who fit in between the 2 extremes; he does so successfully as a man of the cloth should. He is also a very successful detective and he solves the various mysteries with aplomb.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer

Judith Cutler was born in the Black Country, just outside Birmingham, later moving to the Birmingham suburb of Harborne. Judith started writing while she was at the then Oldbury Grammar School, winning the Critical Quarterly Short Story prize with the second story she wrote. She subsequently read English at university. It was an attack of chickenpox caught from her son that kick-started her writing career. One way of dealing with the itch was to hold a pencil in one hand, a block of paper in the other - and so she wrote her first novel. This eventually appeared in a much-revised version as Coming Alive, published by Severn House. Judith has seven series. The first two featured amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers (10 books) and Detective Sergeant Kate Power (6 Books). Then came Josie Wells, a middle-aged woman with a quick tongue, and a love of good food, there are two books, The Food Detective and The Chinese Takeout. The Lina Townsend books are set in the world of antiques and there are seven books in this series. There are three books featuring Tobias Campion set in the Regency period, and her series featuring Chief Superintendent Fran Harman (6 books), and Jodie Welsh, Rector’s wife and amateur sleuth. Her more recently a series feature a head teacher Jane Cowan (3 books). Judith has also written three standalone’s Staging Death, Scar Tissue, and Death In Elysium. Her new series is set in Victorian times featuring Matthew Rowsley. Death’s Long Shadow is the third book in this series.

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