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Monday 18 September 2023

‘The Picture House Murders’ by Fiona Veitch Smith

Published by Embla Books,
29th August 2023.
ISBN 978-1-47141570-8 (PB)

Fiona Veitch Smith’s earlier Poppy Denby murder mysteries became some of my favourite reads of the year and I confess to being somewhat apprehensive when I discovered the author had abandoned Poppy and Oxford in favour of not only a new heroine but also what was for me an unknown northern city. Even with a much-loved author, reading the first in a new series is always a gambol. We grow to know and love the old characters we are familiar with and don't quite know what to expect. I confess I was hesitant at first but after a couple of chapters, I was hooked and couldn't put it down.

Set in 1929, Clara Vale is an emancipated young woman determined to make her own way in life without financial support from her father or a husband. Despite her top-class Oxford degree in chemistry, her hopes of finding a job in the science world are dashed when she is faces prejudice about employing a woman in what is perceived as a male environment. Much to the annoyance of her parents who want her to find a suitable husband, Clara takes a post as a librarian which provides little opportunity for her love of research.

On the unexpected death of her much-loved Uncle Bob, Clara discovers he has left her not only his house and a substantial legacy but also a detective agency and a laboratory. Clara is faced with a dilemma whether to sell the house and business or leave London for Newcastle and continue with the agency. Before she has the chance to decide, she is approached by one of Uncle Bob’s clients who pleads for Clara to continue the case he was working on concerning a fire in a local picture house. When a second picture house is destroyed in suspicious circumstances, Clara finds herself drawn into solving the mystery using all her scientific knowledge and her fast-developing detection skills.

Each of the large cast of characters are well-drawn, and as the complex plot unfolds with plenty of twists and turns, the tension mounts up lightened with hints of a romantic subplot. The reader is quickly drawn into this engaging, page-turning first novel in what will no doubt be a fascinating new 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!’ Her most recent book is Passage to Greenland

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