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Monday 31 October 2022

‘The Girl in the Yellow Dress’ by Jane A. Adams

Published by Severn House,
7 August 2022.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-5096-6 (HB)

In February 1930, in Leicestershire, Brady Brewer is hanged for the murder of Sarah Downham. Even as the rope was round his neck Brady shouts, ‘I didn’t do for that girl, it wasn’t me’.

On his way to work on an early March morning Farmworker Ronan Kerr finds the body of a young girl lying beside the road, less than a mile from where Sarah was found.

Called to the scene is Inspector Walker. As he looks at the young dead girl, he recognises that the method of killing is the same as that of Sarah Downham. His mind rebels against the thought that he got it wrong and leans in the direction of a copycat killing.

When DCI Henry Johnstone learns of the hanging his response is that Brewer had long deserved the rope and on many counts.  His Sergeant Micky Hitchens while not disagreeing with his boss, does raise the matter of Brewers sister who insists that he was with her the night of the murder, but as far as Henry is concerned, the matter is now closed. Then two weeks later they receive a request for their assistance in East Harborough, where a second body of a young girl has been found murdered.

The arrival of DCI Henry Johnson and his sergeant does not sit well with Inspector Walker, but it is commonplace for police officers from Scotland Yard not being welcomed by the local constabulary.  And with the complication that a man has been hanged for an earlier murder with the same MO as the latest killing makes for a tense situation for all concerned. Was Brady Bradley innocent of the murder of Sarah Downham?

As investigation into the second death gets under way there are many conflicting stories. Henry realises that to solve the current murder he must first establish who did kill Sarah. Brady’s sister insists that Brady and Sarah were seeing each other and that he loved her, whereas her family tell a different story.   Further complications arise when it comes to light that the Sarah was wearing a yellow dress when she was found, but the yellow dress is nowhere to be found.

This is the 8th book in the Henry Johnstone Mystery series, and we find Henry more irritable then usual. In the early books Sergeant Mickey Hitchens who is eminently sensible, and has a good way with people, has often in the past saved a situation from going wrong. But Henry is aware that Mickey is well overdue for promotion and knows that he cannot hold Mickey back, but he is feeling trepidation at the approaching separation from his colleague.  

As with earlier books in this series Jane paints a vivid picture of the period. 

So, did Brady Brewer murder Sarah Downham? And if he did, who has killed the second young girl Penelope Soper? Are there two killers in the quiet market town of East Harborough?  Or has an innocent man been hanged?

Intricately plotted with many twists and turns, this book is most highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Jane Adams was born in Leicestershire, where she still lives. She has a degree in Sociology and has held a variety of jobs including lead vocalist in a folk rock band. She enjoys pen and ink drawing; martial arts and her ambition is to travel the length of the Silk Road by motorbike. Her first book, The Greenway, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Award in 1995 and for the Author's Club Best First Novel Award. Jane writes several series.  Her first series featured Mike Croft. Several books featuring DS Ray Flowers. Seven titles featuring blind Naoimi Blake, and six titles featuring Rina Martin. In 2016 she started a series set between the two World Wars and featuring Detective Inspector Henry Johnstone and his sergeant, Micky Hitchens.  Bury Me Deep is the first book in a series featuring Detective Inspector Rozlyn Priest.  Jane has also written several standalone novels. She is married with two children.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

‘Death by the Sea’ by Vera Morris

Published by Headline Accent,
27 October 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-8368-9 (PB)

However low-key the Anglian Detective Agency’s cases start out, somehow, they always seem to trip over bodies. Back on song after almost falling apart during a previous investigation, they’re asked to investigate the theft of some valuable rare plants from a nursery – and when the nursery’s owner recommends them to a friend, it’s the friend who turns up dead.

Ex-policeman Frank Diamond is using his degree in botany to hunt down the plant thief, while his partner in crime-busting Laurel Bowman takes some time off for tennis lessons at the nearby country club. It turns out that the dead would-be client was also a member of the club, and not exactly popular with some of the staff, who hold the kind of views that would merit one of those ‘offensive language typical of the era’ warnings if the series ever made it to television.

The supporting cast are as interesting as ever: Carlton the self-important tennis coach and Beattie his spiky sister; Pamela the feisty nursery owner and Georgie her cautious head gardener; and my favourite, Miss Underwood the retired headmistress, who would probably have made an excellent detective herself. Also involved is David Pemberton, familiar to aficionados of this quirky series as a kidnap victim in a previous case.

The result is a tangled web of prejudice, suspicion and secrets from the past, played out against the bleakly beautiful Suffolk landscape which Vera Morris evokes so vividly. Dorothy the agency’s administrator and Mabel the housekeeper are content to remain in the background this time; it’s mainly down to Frank, Laurel and ex-police sergeant Stuart Elderkin to unearth the identity of the plant thief, and with the help of friendly policeman Nick Revie solve several murders and prevent a major disaster along the way. And of course it all happens in the 1970s, when forensic technology was a far cry from today’s DNA matches and microscopic analysis, and there weren’t even any mobile phones or computers to help them out.

And then of course there’s the matter of Stuart’s expanding waistline, and the ongoing saga of Frank and Laurel, clearly potty about each other but both such strong personalities that they’re incapable of admitting it or doing anything about it. If, and when they do finally get it together, the dynamic of their unconventional detective agency will change – but that won’t matter a bit provided it keeps going. Without them, crime fiction would be as bleak as that landscape!

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Vera Morris blew soap bubbles in Woolworth's, cooked in hotels and electro-fished in Welsh rivers, before becoming a teacher.  Most of her teaching career was in a local mixed comprehensive in South Oxfordshire, where she became Headteacher. Her interests include writing, gardening, cooking, reading, the theatre, museums and art galleries, and travelling in her campervan.


Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.