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Friday 23 February 2024

‘The Bag of Secrets’ by Joy Ellis

Published by Joffe Books,
16 November 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-83526-240-5 (PB)

Ex-Chief Inspector Matt Ballard and his partner ex-DS Liz Haynes now run a Private Detective Agency. Currently they have more work than they can handle. A case of shoplifting, and trying to locate teenager Liam Cooper, who has been missing for ten days. But when Liz returns home with a carpet bag bulging with papers, handwritten on odd bits of paper, handed to her by librarian Chris Lamont, who is certain it was left by Old Molly, the bag lady, who is homeless and who has not been seen since> Like Liz his interest is aroused. The contents are random notes, but their content is disturbing, whoever wrote them, is very afraid.  Because of their current workload, Liz contacts her nephew David, who is delighted to come and help decipher the miscellaneous scraps of paper.

When a body is discovered lying in a lagoon of brackish water PC Jack, ‘Swifty’ Fleet recognises the bundle of rags as Old Molly. It doesn’t take their old friend pathologist Professor Rory Wilkinson long to establish that she has been murdered.  

As David painstakingly works his way through the bundles of notes on scrappy bits of paper, some on old birthday cards that have obviously been pulled from a bin, it becomes abundantly clear that Molly was frightened, and was leaving clues in case she was found and killed by whoever was after her.

Because the police are currently so overstretched DCI Charley Anders, Matts ex-boss, has cleared them to work on the murder and gives them DC Darren Norton as official help.  Darren is about as much use as a chocolate teapot, as the grandson of chief Superintendent Ewin Norton, he doesn’t think investigating the murder of an old bag woman is worth his time.  

While Liz is seeking people who knew Molly, she finds Clem and his dog Gunner. Clem is distraught as Molly gave him something to keep safe for her and he has lost it. Matt is talking to Jaxon, one of Liam’s friends, it’s like pulling teeth but finally he says that Liam keep talking about a place called the Bunker, he wouldn’t tell me where it is, but said it was zero cool! As Matt continues his search for Liam he hears further references to the Bunker, but no one knows where it is or what happens there.

Then a second body is found in a barn out on the fens.

The trail leads them to the remote fenland village of Marshdyke-St-Mary.  Matt and Liz must piece together the cryptic clues Molly has left for them before more people die. The answers lead to some shocking secrets stretching back many years.

As in all Joy’s books there are some marvellously fleshed out character’s Smokey Joe, George Miles, Clem and his dog Gunner, and Jeff, what a great character is young Jeff. I wanted to meet them all.

I could not put this book down. Intricately plotted the strands of the two investigations slowly come together providing an enthralling  mystery. Most highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Joy Ellis was born in Kent but spent most of her working life in London and Surrey. She was an apprentice florist to Constance Spry Ltd, a prestigious Mayfair shop that throughout the Sixties and Seventies teemed with both royalty and ‘real’ celebrities. She swore that one day she would have a shop of her own. It took until the early Eighties, but she did it. Sadly, the recession wiped it out, and she embarked on a series of weird and wonderful jobs; the last one being a bookshop manager Joy now lives in a village in the Lincolnshire Fens with her partner, Jacqueline. She had been writing mysteries for years but never had the time to take it seriously. Now as her partner is a highly decorated retired police officer; her choice of genre was suddenly clear. She has set her crime thrillers in the misty fens.

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