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Guy Fraser-Sampson

THE HOUSE ON DOWNSHIRE HILL . . . Between the covers

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.

Miss Christie Regrets

A Whiff Of Cyanide

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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A WHIFF OF CYANIDE … Between the covers

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a-whiff-of-cyanideReaders of the two previous books in the Hampstead Murders series, Death In Profile and Miss Christie Regrets, will know what to expect, but for readers new to the novels here is a Bluffers’ Guide. The stories are set in modern day Hampstead, a very select and expensive district of London. The police officers involved are, principally, Detective Superintendent Simon Collison, a civilised and gentlemanly type who, despite his charm and urbanity, is reluctant to climb the promotion ladder which is presented to him. Detective Sergeant Karen Willis is, likewise, of finishing school material, but also a very good copper with – as we are often reminded – legs to die for. She is in love, but not exclusively, with Detective Inspector Bob Metcalfe, a decent sort with a heart of gold. If he were operating back in the Bulldog Drummond era he would certainly have a lantern jaw and blue eyes that could be steely, or twinkle with kindness as circumstances dictate.

Not a police officer as such, but frequently the giver of expert advice is Dr Peter Collins, who is le troisième in the ménage of which Karen Willis and Bob Metcalfe make up le premier and le deuxième. In another era, Collins would be described as ‘highly strung’. His sensitivities sometimes lead him to believe that he is Lord Peter Wimsey – and that Willis is Harriet Vane – but this eccentricity aside, he frequently has insights into murder cases which remain hidden to his more workaday colleagues.

The plot? With such delightful characters, it is almost a case of “who cares?”, but we do have an intriguing story. At a crime writers’ convention in a London hotel the Dowager Duchess of English crime novels, Ann Durham, is far from happy. For the first time in recent memory, her position as Chair of The Crime Writers’ Association is being challenged – disgracefully, she feels – by upstarts who have been churlish enough to ask for a democratic vote.

As the luminaries assemble for pre-dinner drinks, Durham takes an elegant sip of her gin and tonic, utters a dramatic shriek – and falls down dead. Peter Collins is a dinner guest, due to his authorship of a forthcoming book on The Golden Age of Crime Fiction. His partner for the evening is, naturally, Karen Willis, and with Ann Durham lying dead on the floor, her police training kicks in and she soon has the scene secured.

GFSCollison, Metcalfe, Willis and Collins have an ever lengthening list of questions to be answered. Why was Ann Durham brandishing a bottle of cyanide as she presided over one of the convention panels? Who actually wrote her most popular – and best selling – series of novels? Fraser-Sampson (right) spins a beautiful yarn here, with regular nods to The Golden Age during a convincing account of modern police procedure. Not only is the crime eventually solved, but he provides us with a delightful solution to the Willis – Metcalfe – Collins love triangle.

Not the least of the many delights to be found in this novel is the author’s sardonic wit. His take on the whole crime writers’ festival ambience will strike a chord with many who attend such events. He arranges several distinct characters on his canvas: busy PR types – perhaps upper class gels with a humanities degree – bob and weave among the notables, gushing about this and that; we have La Grande Dame, the celebrated author with millions in the bank who disdains to rub shoulders with the hoi poloi; she is drawn in stark contrast with writers who are hungry for success and are only too happy to meet and greet the punters if it will sell a few books. Fraser-Sampson fires one or two deadly accurate arrows, but my favourite was this barb from one of the characters:

“I expect half the writers of this Nordic Noir stuff actually have names like Smith or Higginbotham and live in ghastly places like Watford or Cleethorpes. Publishers are funny like that, you see ……. if you can tick the Nordic Noir box, they know exactly which neat little compartment to fit you into and in all their marketing blurb they can call you the next Jo Nesbo.”

Some people might view books like this as a guilty pleasure, but guess what? I loved every page of it, and I sleep soundly at night with not even a wisp of guilt to darken my contentment. A Whiff of Cyanide is published by Urbane Publications, and you can check purchase options here. While you are in the mood, why not read our review of an earlier novel in the series, Miss Christie Regrets

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MISS CHRISTIE REGRETS … Between the covers

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This is the second in a series by Guy Fraser-Sampson, set in the exclusive London borough of Hampstead.  As the police try to solve a not-quite-locked-room murder mystery in an elegant Queen Anne house, their task becomes doubly difficult when another body is found in a nearby block of flats, the Isokon Building. There is one crucial difference, however. The body in the upper room of Burgh House is that of Peter Howse a widely disliked researcher. The structure of his skull has been violently rearranged with a museum piece – an ancient police truncheon. The other deceased person? It’s fair to say that the first 48 hours of this particular investigation will not be so crucial, as the police pathologist states with some conviction that the bones have been in their bricked up cavity for at least half a century.

A quick word about Hampstead for those unfamiliar with London. Wikipedia tells us that Hampstead is:

“ …known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area. The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom.”

mcr-coverBeing as this book is, in one sense, a police procedural, an introduction to the investigating officers is essential. Detective Sergeant Karen Willis is an elegant and well educated woman, whose personal life is complex. She is courted by two suitors; the first, Dr Peter Collins, is a consultant psychologist who, although undeniably clever, may not be entirely of sound mind himself, as he is prone to nervous attacks. When with Karen, he also tends to drop into a Lord Peter Wimsey persona and, yes, he does insist on calling Karen “Harriet”. The other claimant to the hand of Willis is Detective Inspector Bob Metcalfe, a much more grounded fellow who certainly does not mimic characters from Golden Age fiction. In fact, he could be said to be very worthy, but rather dull. Overseeing the investigations is Detective Superintendent Simon Collison, an urbane and civilised man who is regarded with a certain suspicion by more belt-and-braces officers such as Chief Inspector Tom Allen. One stock police character who is very much noticeable by his absence is a badly dressed, misanthropic and foul mouthed Detective Inspector type, much loved of many crime authors. If any such person did operate out of Hampstead nick, he must long ago have been transferred elsewhere.

As the police try to discover if there could conceivably be any connection between the suspicious deaths, decades apart, they discover that a fellow tenant of the apartment building to our skeletal friend was none other than Lady Mallowan – better known as Agatha Christie. Instead of the threads of the investigation becoming separated and more discernible one from the other, the tangle tightens when Collison and Metcalfe are informed by Special Branch that several of the Isokon Building residents during and immediately after WW2 were suspected of spying for Russia.

The author’s stated intent is to take the modes, manners and milieu of the Golden Age crime novel, and blend them into a modern setting. He succeeds, due in no small way to his sense of style and his lightness of touch. If the characters are not always totally plausible, then it matters not one jot. This book, like its predecessor Death In Profile, is an entertainment, pure and simple. There are 360 pages of sheer enjoyment, with the bonus of one or two rather good jokes along the way.

“Does anyone have a different view?” Collison asked quietly, looking around the room. “If so, please don’t hesitate to express it just because the DI and I are ad idem.”
Unsurprisingly, there was no answer. Firstly, because nobody was about to disagree with two senior officers. Second, because nobody wanted to participate in a renewed bout of house to house enquiries. Third, because nobody else, apart from Karen Willis, knew what ad idem meant.

It should be said that both Burgh House and the Isokon Building are real places, as are the pubs where Metcalfe and colleagues grab their lunch. This detailed local knowledge is used with subtlety and discretion throughout the narrative. There are other crime writers who, over the years have claimed particular areas of London as their own. We must allow Christopher Fowler to have his run of the lurid joys of King’s Cross and countless quirky abandoned theatres and lost railway stations. While the bleak and bloody suburban streets of places like Willesden and Kilburn, as well as the neon pallor of Soho clubs belong to the great Derek Raymond, we must grant Guy Fraser-Sampson ownership of the health-giving literary high ground of Hampstead.

Miss Christie Regrets is a beautifully written and cleverly plotted book which should be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of The Golden Age, but also likes fare with a touch of spice added. It is available now, and published by Urbane Publications in paperback and Kindle.

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