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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.

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