“She’s moved to Tewkesbury to escape from death, not to court it”
- Book: The Distant Dead – (The Detective’s Daughter #8)
- Location: London, Tewkesbury
- Author: Lesley Thomson
I feel as though I have lived every moment of this investigation with cleaner turned amateur detective, Stella Darnell and her team, and now I am all worn out and ready for a rest before my next case!
With the prologue really setting the scene, the pace of the ensuing storyline is defined, which although not fast paced, has an abundance of really quite dark and understated murders for our intrepid team of amateur sleuths to solve, before the rather satisfying conclusion is reached, and the ‘Detective’s Daughter’ lives to fight another day – but only just!
As I have come into the series with this, book #8, I can see that there is a backstory running through each episode, although the author did a good job of drip-feeding me the pertinent facts at just the right time, so that I never really felt short-changed in knowing what the characters were talking about and why they were interacting with each other in a certain way. For me personally, that was enough to make this book work fine as a stand alone story.
This dual timeline story, which begins during the London wartime blitz of 1940, and concludes many miles away in Tewkesbury several decades later, is told in alternating chapters, which are well signposted and kept short, so that tracking the many scene changes and keeping things fluid, is relatively straightforward.
This story definitely wasn’t written for the reader who likes their murders to be neatly packaged and compartmentalised. Everyone was both a suspect and a potential victim. My own suspect list had so many names on it, I began to lose track of them all, particularly as they were crossed off then added back on again, with every new twist and turn, of which there plenty. And No! I didn’t even guess the real perpetrator in the end, which was a little frustrating. There were just too many lies and secrets, so much double crossing and back-stabbing, that sorting out the guilty from the innocent, needed a criminology degree!
This multi-layered, well structured story, is richly textured and intense, as with potential suspects lurking around every corner, who is it safe to trust? The pace of the plot has natural peaks and troughs and the author has the skill, authority and confidence in her writing, to allow her characters a voice of their own and free reign to take control of a situation. At times the atmosphere is a little claustrophobic and almost too replete with detail, especially as much of the action takes place in the dead of night and, typically for England, during adverse and inclement weather conditions. However, for invoking a real sense of time and place and for ratcheting up the tension a notch or two, this was a great touch and never out of step with events as they occurred in either time period.
Complex family connections, a corrupt police investigation leading to a complete travesty of justice, and victims still seeking closure, revenge, retribution and truth, link these crimes, only separated by time, but never far from thought and definitely never forgiven or forgotten by so many. All the result of one person’s incontrovertible belief, that their status in the community gave them carte blanche to behave in whatever way they chose without justification, made them untouchable and immune from suffering any consequences, even when their heinous crimes are uncovered, with the shifted burden of guilt even transcending their death.
Author Lesley Thomson, has created a large sprawling cast of well drawn, defined and developed, characters, only a small percentage of which I was particularly eager to engage with, which is exactly as it should have been, given the many personal vendettas and rivalries involved. Although Stella herself is an authentic and genuinely believable character, she still comes across as a very emotionally complex person, even somewhat vulnerable, in that she seems almost reluctantly desperate to carry on in her detective father’s footsteps, as if to honour him and keep his memory alive in some way. In that respect, maybe she is still trying to find her place in life, searching for a sense of belonging and trying to decide whether beginning a new life with Jack and his young family, is really the right road for her to take towards her future happiness.
As a purely personal connection and a nod to the author, Stella also has a constant companion of the four-legged variety, a poodle called Stanley, whose bark is much worse than his bite, although both would make any unsuspecting potential attackers think twice!
I was always led to believe that “revenge is a dish best served cold”, although Stella and her team are very much of the opinion that it can be served at any temperature, and I have to say, I can see where they are coming from!