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DI Isabel Blood

LAST SEEN ALIVE . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-04-16 at 20.05.42Last Seen Alive is the third  book by Jane Bettany (left) featuring the Derbyshire copper DI Isabel Blood. The story begins when Anna Matheson, a single mother who works at a large confectionery firm, fails to pick up her infant son from the child minder after a social event at work. Lauren Talbot, the child minder, raises the alarm late at night, but precious hours elapse before morning comes and the police are able to start making enquiries.

I wonder where crime stories would be without the ever-reliable assistance of dog walkers? Inevitably, it is one such who makes the grim discovery of a body which turns out to be that of Anna Matheson. She has been strangled, but there is no evidence of sexual assault. Isabel Blood’s team begin their investigations at Allwoods – the successful firm where Anna was marketing manager. The firm is jointly owned by Fay Allwood – widow of Barry – and their son, Ross. Suspicion initially falls on a member of the management team, James Derenby, who has been unsuccessfully trying to date Anna for some time, but this is, apparently, a blind alley.

Isabel Blood is convinced that the key to the mystery lies in discovering who was the the father of Benedict – the dead woman’s baby son. Anna Matheson had steadfastly and consistently refused to reveal his identity – even to her own mother. What follows is an intensely complex voyage of discovery for the detectives, as they encounter what becomes almost a criminal version of Who Do You Think You Are? Old secrets are revealed and – like creatures scuttling away from the light when a large flat stone is lifted – many people try to avoid their past indiscretions being made public.

DI Blood is an interesting character. Lord knows, there are probably as many Detective Inspectors in crime fiction as there are real ones, so what makes her stand out? Thankfully, she is happily married, comfortable in her own skin and, praise be, we don’t have regular updates about her CD collection. Like many of her fictional counterparts, she is constantly being admonished by her boss for becoming too involve with cases and doing more investigating than inspecting. Another reason for the empathetic portrayal of the Derbyshire detective is, I suspect, that she and her creator are in more or less of the same age and, perhaps, family circumstances.

Last Seen Alive is elaborately plotted, totally convincing, and as good an example of a contemporary English police procedural as you are likely to find. It is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins), is out now in Kindle, and will be available as a paperback on June. If you want to read my review of the previous novel Without A Trace click the link.

WITHOUT A TRACE . . . Between the covers

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We are in the fictional Derbyshire town of Bainbridge. Recently divorced Ruth Prendergast has finished work for the day, done her shopping, and is keen to be inside her new house in Hollywell Close, warm, snug and out of the icy winter rain. She fancies a night in, with a pizza and a glass or two of wine. What she gets, however, is a ghastly shock. Turning on the bedroom light she finds a man apparently asleep under her duvet. When she plucks up the courage to wake him, she finds she cannot. Because he is dead. Stone dead, with a knife embedded in his body.

WAT coverThe team investigating the murder is led by Detective Inspector Isabel Blood, her Sergeant and a brace of DCs. They soon learn that the dead man is Kevin Spriggs, a middle-aged car mechanic, with a failed marriage behind him, an estranged son – and an argumentative temperament often fueled by drink. The murder raises many questions for Blood and her people. How did Spriggs and the person who killed him gain access to a locked house? Who hated Spriggs – admittedly not one of life’s natural charmers – enough to kill him? After all, he was something of a nobody, tolerated rather than loved by most people who knew him, but why this brutal – and mysterious – death?

The investigation – code named Operation Jackdaw – has achieved precisely three-fifths of five-eighths of diddly-squat, when it is rocked by the discovery that Ruth Prendergast, who discovered the corpse of the unfortunate Spriggs has herself disappeared. She was due to go on a walking trip with a lady friend, but she failed to make the rendezvous and, to borrow from The Bard, she has “melted into air, into thin air ….. leaving not a rack behind.

There are enough fictional Detective Inspectors out there in the world of crime fiction to run a large county police force, so what makes Isabel Blood – to steal a sporting cliché  – achieve a podium finish? Refreshingly, she is middle-aged, comfortable in her skin and appears to have no hidden demons. She is happily married with two teenage daughters, and the only kink in this domestic bliss is that her father was apparently bigamously involved with Isabel’s mother, and now lives in France where he has two grown up sons with his legal wife. Now, Isabel’s father and her half-brother have arrived in Bainbridge for a visit at precisely the time that the unfortunate Kevin Spriggs is discovered in Ruth Prendergast’s bed. Eventually, the team discover how – and why – the man was murdered, and the solution is complex, but it very neatly echoes Isabel’s own difficulties with her double family and half-siblings.

Without A Trace is a well plotted and nuance police procedural with credible coppers and equally convincing villains. It is published by HQ Digital, and will be out in Kindle on 29th October. A paperback edition will be available in January.

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