Recent Events

Tuesday 28 November 2023

‘A Quiet Contagion’ by Jane Jesmond

Published by Verve Books,
28 November 2023.
ISBN: 978-0-85730849-8 (PBO)

What do you do when your grandad jumps, quite deliberately, off a railway bridge seventy miles from home into the path of an approaching train? You ask questions, of course. Why did he do it? Why was he there at all? Why hadn’t he confided in anyone? So it is with Phiney Wistman. When she has stopped reeling from the initial shock, she is desperate for answers – especially when she is attacked shortly afterwards.

Her grandad Wilf was a victim of polio, a disease which wrecked many lives in the first half of the twentieth century, before a vaccine was found. As a teenager sixty years earlier he had worked briefly at a pharmaceutical company producing the vaccine, though it had come too late for him – and when Phiney starts to dig around for information, she soon begins to wonder if there was a link between that and his suicide.

Together with Dora, her step-grandmother, and Mat, a curious but ethical journalist, Phiney follows a trail of clues which lead her into mortal danger. It becomes plain that someone has something very big to hide: something that happened back in the 1950s, when polio was rife. The skilfully tangled story of their quest for answers in both past and present is peopled with characters so sharply drawn that you’d recognize them if they walked into the room. Dora is clumsy, awkward, loquacious; Mat is cheerful, astute and knowledgable; Phiney herself is determined and a little reckless, and her relationship with Dora is spiky and chafing. Then there’s sensible Meghan, Phiney’s friend; Harry, Wilf’s father, long dead but a key player in the 1950s strand; shady businessman James Poulter, heir to the pharmaceutical company. I especially enjoyed Jonathan the flamboyant actor, and Jean, the ambitious but overlooked scientist who has a lot to lose. And then there’s the elusive Victor, one of the biggest surprises Phiney and her companions unearth.   

Most crime novels have a relatively narrow focus, and explore crimes one person commits against another, or several others. A Quiet Contagion takes a wider view; here the crime is against a large slice of humanity, and the lengths some people will go to in order to cover up their misdoings. At least, that’s one way to look at it. From another point of view, the only actual crime is the way the covering up is done. Whichever way you choose to approach it, this is a novel that will keep you gripped to the final page.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jane Jesmond was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, although she was raised on Liverpool, and considers herself northern through and through.   On The Edge is Jane's debut novel and the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw. Jane's family comes from Cornwall, and her lifelong love of the Cornish landscape and culture inspired the setting of On The Edge. Jane has spent the last thirty years living and working in France. She began writing steadily six or seven years ago and writes every morning in between staring out at the sea and making cups of tea.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment