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A Death In The Night

A DEATH IN THE NIGHT … Between the covers

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GFSAfter I had read Death In Profile, and saw that it was billed as the first of an intended series, I did softly uttered something akin to “hmmmm…?”, quietly questioning if there was any room in the crowded contemporary crime fiction market for books which unashamedly borrowed tropes and mannerisms from books written seventy years ago. I have just finished A Death In The Night, the fourth in the series, and I am now a true believer, and devoted disciple. Guy Fraser-Sampson (left) has created a delightful repertory company of characters, and set them to work catching killers in the highly exclusive avenues and cul de sacs of London’s Hampstead.

Principally, we have a quartet of investigators. Chief Superintendent Simon Collison, Inspector Bob Metcalfe and Sergeant Karen Willis all work for the Metropolitan Police, while Dr Peter Collins is a psychologist and criminal profiler who acts as consultant to the Hampstead coppers. In the first three books, Metcalfe and Collins are jointly suitors of the radiant and ravishing Willis. This strange ménage à trois has now resolved itself, however; Collins has Willis to himself, and Metcalfe has a new object of his passion. (To read our review of an earlier book in the series, A Whiff of Cyanide, just click the link)

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 Naturally enough, this being a murder mystery, the examining pathologist discovers not only that Bowen was murdered by smothering, but she was also three months pregnant. Further investigations by Collison and colleagues uncover that Bowen was in a relationship – along with countless other bedazzled women – with a libidinous and charismatic QC, Simon Fuller. It seems that he and his wife have come to ‘an arrangement’. Mrs F has neither interest nor ability in the sexual side of marriage, so she is quite content to let Mr F seek his pleasures where he will, provided that he remains her husband, in a strictly social sense.

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 As Collison and Co. scrape away at the wall of lies and deflection which surrounds the truth about Bowen’s murder, they get the distinct feeling that as fast as they chip and chisel, someone else is busy repairing and replacing the brickwork. Of course, the killer is revealed in the end, but not before Fraser-Sampson puts his company through their paces. Collison is educated, urbane and thoroughly professional. Metcalfe is dogged, decent and determined. Willis belongs on the cover of Vogue, but is also blindingly intelligent, and a damn good copper. Collins? Well, he is an exercise in eccentricity. He is possessed of a mind which can think three or four steps ahead of less gifted people, but he does have his little moments. Such as when, in times of great stress, he imagines that he is Lord Peter Wimsey, and that Karen Willis is his Harriet Vane.

 To borrow and adapt from Matthew chapter 7, verse 20, “Therefore by their tea-times ye shall know them..”, we are not surprised that Peter Collins serves up Earl Grey to accompany anchovy toast: we would expect nothing less of him. Without extending the metaphor too much beyond its breaking point, I can say that Fraser-Sampson’s writing is – just like Dr Peter’s four o’clock fare – elegantly presented, fragrant, but with a salty piquancy to add balance. I have become a great admirer of the Hampstead Murders series. They may be making a reverential nod in the direction of Christie, Sayers and Allingham et al, but they are beautifully written, cleverly plotted and, above all, superbly entertaining. After all, isn’t that why we open crime fiction books in the first place?

You can buy A Death In The Night here, but if you fancy a freebie, simply click on the image below, and that will take you to our competition page.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Stuart Davies & Fraser-Sampson

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David Stuart DaviesTwo books from Urbane Publications this week, and they both look very tasty. I’ve become an avid fan of Guy Fraser-Sampson’s quirky Hampstead Murders series, but David Stuart Davies (left) and his copper DI Paul Snow are, for me, unexplored territory. David Stuart Davies is, as well as being an original author, is a noted editor of ghost stories and classic detective fiction, and an expert on Sherlock Holmes. In Blood Rites, Paul Snow has a problem. A Yorkshire police station in the 1980s is not the most favourable place or time to announce that you are a homosexual, and so Snow remains firmly ‘in the closet’. The self doubt and personal turmoil do not sit easy with Snow, especially when he is trying to bring to justice a killer whose crimes are clearly connected but apparently random. Snow’s lack of success sees him removed from the case, but he is determined to find the killer, and sets about the task privately. You can buy Blood Rites here, and check out two previous DI Snow titles, Brothers In Blood and Innocent Blood.

GFS authorGuy Fraser-Sampson (right) is clearly a man who has an affinity with an England which, sadly, no longer exists. Precision and subtlety of language, exquisite manners and faithful adherence to social niceties are all terribly unfashionable, but Fraser-Sampson’s respect for them is shown in his revival of EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia characters, as in Lucia on Holiday and Au Reservoir.

Imagine presenting a premise for a new crime series to a world-weary literary agent. The two principle police officers are as follows: a sane, sober and happily married senior chap, with no personal demons or particular beef with his bosses; we also have a very posh lady detective who, if she didn’t go to Roedean, might well have. Throw into the mix a fragile and waif-like consultant psychologist who, when things get tough, imagines that he is Lord Peter Wimsey, and addresses the love of his life (the female detective) as “Harriet, old thing…” To compound the felony, the stories are set in the rarified atmosphere of one of England’s (if not the world’s) most exclusive locations – Hampstead, in London.

Now, be serious. This shouldn’t work, should it? Please take it from me that not only does it work, but it works in Spades. Fraser-Sampson is totally up-front about his influences, and what he is setting out to do. When I read the first book, Death In Profile, I was quite prepared to scoff, but within a very few pages, I was converted. This was followed in short order by Miss Christie Regrets and A Whiff of Cyanide.

The Hampstead team make a welcome return in A Death In The Night. We have professors, barristers, serial adulterers and exclusive clubs. Of course, we can’t have a crime novel without at least one body, and in this case it is that of the wife of a prominent lawyer. Can Metcalfe, Collins and Willis triumph over a distinct lack of evidence and bring a killer to justice?

If your local bookshop doesn’t stock it, then Amazon will have

A Death In The Night

To read the Fully Booked reviews of previous novels in the series, click the link

Miss Christie Regrets

A Whiff of Cyanide

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