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Tuesday 19 March 2024

‘Murder Most Cold’ by Victoria Dowd

Published by Joffe Books,
7 November 2023.
ISBN  978-1-83526231-1

Victoria Dowd has a unique zany, dark humour that is ever present in her Smart Women series. The Smarts are an extremely dysfunctional family of eccentric quirky characters. Ursula, the main protagonist, is the only sane one in the group, but even she sees the ghost of her father. He always appears at moments of crisis when Ursula feels overwhelmed by events. Ursula’s demanding and autocratic mother Pandora Smart is more interested in her blog – Death Smarts – than her own daughter. Pandora is the self-appointed decision maker for the group, which also includes Aunt Charlotte – always vague who never appears to be able to work out what is going on – and Bridget, a hanger-on with a passion for unusual animals who, as Pandora frequently points out, is not actually a member of the Smart family.

Ursula is surprised when Spear asks her to marry him. They plan a quiet winter wedding in a remote frozen wilderness in Finland accompanied only by close family – the Smart women and Smart’s mother Angela. But it’s not just pre-wedding nerves that upset what should be a happy occasion. Their hosts are none too welcoming, the atmosphere is bleak, and tensions start to rise.

Ursula is already worried that her distracted husband-to-be is having second thoughts about his sudden, unexpected proposal when things go from bad to worse. Spear disappears, one of the resort staff is found murdered, and horror strikes when Ursula comes across a man frozen beneath the thick ice covering a nearby lake.   

The grim, brutal environment of this remote Lapland location that is so chillingly described contrasts sharply with scenes of pure hilarious, laugh-aloud humour, but what I enjoyed most about Victoria Dowd novels are her characters. Wildly idiosyncratic though each of the Smart women are, with their close, if constantly fractious relationship, the reader finds themselves inevitably drawn to each of them.

The multi-layered plot is so full of unexpected twists and turns, the reader is compelled to keep reading to solve the mounting number of questions.

I found Victoria Dowd’s series highly addictive. If you like complex locked-room mysteries with plenty of action and unique humour, I recommend, Murder Most Cold.
Reviewer: Judith Cranswick

Victoria Dowd
was born and raised in Yorkshire and after studying at Cambridge, went on to be a successful criminal law barrister for many years.  Victoria’s debut crime novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder (published by Joffe Books) is the first part of a dark, humorous crime series that is a modern take on the Golden Age of crime fiction and authors such Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey. She is an award-winning short story writer, winning the Gothic Fiction prize for short fiction 2019 by Go Gothic. Victoria has had short stories published in BTS Literary and Arts Annual, Gold Dust magazine and also by Stairwell books in their literary and arts journal Dream Catcher. Her work has also been selected for publication in an anthology entitled A Ghostly Challenge. She speaks at various literary festivals, most recently in Bath, and at various schools and book groups.

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 Peril in Persia.

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