Compartmentalising crime novels is something we all do, especially reviewers who need to put tags in their posts, but it really isn’t too helpful, especially when a writer may seem to be firmly rooted in one genre, but in fact is offering something much more subtle. Guy Fraser-Sampson (left) is one such chap with his Hampstead Murders series. Obviously, nothing very dark can happen in the airy tree-lined streets of London’s most expensive and exclusive suburb – or can it? The House On Downshire Hill is the fifth in the series and existing admirers will welcome the return of the Fraser-Sampson repertory company, which comprises the urbane and unflappable Superintendent Simon Collison, and the earnest DI Bob Metcalfe and his former girlfriend DS Kate Willis. The impossibly glamorous Willis once had an improbable ménage à trois with Metcalfe and an eccentric psychoanalyist called Peter Collins, but Metcalfe now has a new girlfriend. Collins is less prominent in this novel and his place centre stage is taken by the enthusiastic (but slightly unworldly) DC Priya Desai.
Is this just a cosy read, and
an amiable pastiche of Golden Age crime fiction? I would say not. Fraser-
Sampson is unapologetic in his admiration for ‘the way we were’ and astute folk
will recognise that he has produced a series of follow-ons to EF Benson’s Mapp
and Lucia books. The House On Downshire
Hill however, is not just an affectionate tribute. The writing is elegant
and assured, and the characters – particularly the coppers – all have their
dark moments. True, there are no scenes of butchery which will make you want to
go to sleep with the bedroom light on, but this an entertaining and beautifully
written crime novel. It is published by Urbane Publications and
is out now.
Follow these links to read reviews of previous
books in the series.
Where would crime fiction readers and writers be without murder? It is the human act which lies at the heart of countless thrillers, police procedurals, serial killer investigations and tales of revenge. Someone more erudite than I will know when the first murder mystery was published, but I suspect it was Poe’s 1841 The Murders In The Rue Morgue. There are not as many actual murders in the Sherlock Holmes stories as one might imagine, and it wasn’t until the twentieth century that corpses became de rigeur in crime novels. Since then,murder has taken may forms in crime novels, from subtle poisoning to vivid and visceral butchery, but I can’t recall a novel which has dealt with the subject of children who kill. In real life that is an infrequently seen phenomenon, so much so that when it does happen the names of the killers tend to live long int he public memory.
Even in harsh socio-political regimes,no-one executes children. So what happens when they have served their time?Here in Britain, we know that they are eventually released, given new identities and plausible fictitious back-stories, and closely monitored in the hope that they can rebuild their lives. This balancing act by the judicial system is the central feature in Lesley Kara’s excellent debut novel The Rumour. A lifetime ago, Sally McGowan stabbed little Robbie Harris to death. She was found guilty, detained,but then released into the community and given a new life. A life, Robbie Harris’s distraught family insist, that was denied their little boy.
In the unassuming Essex seaside town of Flinstead (think, maybe, real-life Frinton or Walton-on-the-Naze) Jo Critchley, single mum to Alfie and estate agent’s gofer,lives in her modest two-up, two-down terraced house. She has moved up from London taking a break from Alfie’s dad Michael, and to be – a couple of streets away – near her mum. Jo is not ‘born and bred’ Flinstead, and it is taking her a while to become part of the school gate sorority. Still, she has joined a local book group, and added her name to the baby-sitting circle. One afternoon as she waits among the throng of chattering mums outside Alfie’s school, she overhears someone sharing the startling gossip that child-killer Sally McGowan is hiding in plain sight amid the modest bungalows and shabby boarding houses of Flinstead. In her anxiety to be accepted and to be someone who should be listened to, she shares this rumour with the women at her book club. And thus her nightmare begins.
As the Sally McGowan story grows legs, wings, and then takes flight, Jo is caught up in a febrile swirl of false accusations and journalistic opportunism. Who is Sally McGowan? Is it the woman who owns the hippie artifact shop? Is it the artist who has made a collage portrait of strips of newsprint reporting on the McGowan affair?
Lesley Kara tells most of the story through the eyes of Jo Critchley. The style is direct,conversational and without literary pretension. Kara cleverly misdirects us for two hundred pages or so until she produces a plot twist which turns the narrative on its head. This is a breathtakingly original thriller, set in a humdrum location, but written with style and verve powerful enough to suck in readers, especially those who love Domestic Noir. The Rumour will be on the shelves from 27th December in hardback, but is available now in a digital edition.