“There’s more than one person hiding secrets in Abbeymead…”
- Book: The Bookshop Murder
- Location: West Sussex
- Author: Merryn Allingham
Whilst the period of the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction, is recognised as encompassing predominantly the decades of the 1920s and 1930s, the scope of the genre can also be extended to other decades and I personally think that The Bookshop Murder, whilst set in 1955, is good to qualify for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that Flora mentions in passing, having recently had a very successful window display of books in her shop, by the best selling author Agatha Christie! Mind you, given that I was born a mere three years after bookshop owner, Flora Steele’s first foray into the world of amateur sleuthing, I’m not so sure that I am ready to think of myself as ‘Golden Age’!
I usually hope for four key elements to make that storyline just perfect: A beginning which gets right to the heart of things; a storyline which is well paced, seamless and fluid; an ending which is conclusive and ties up all those nasty little loose ends; and a protagonist who can’t be dead. The Bookshop Murder is textbook perfect in every way, although Flora does only manage to stay alive by the skin of her teeth and with a little help from a youngster who, luckily for her, is far too observant for his own good!
From my perspective, the combination of a bookshop owner and a crime fiction author, is an ideal combination for an amateur sleuthing team and after a few minor teething problems, Flora and Jack are beginning to gel quite nicely together. A rather taciturn, considered and reclusive Jack, is the perfect foil for Flora’s rather open, garrulous and impulsive nature. In fact, at times it was Flora who took the lead in their very unofficial investigation, making the storyline feel much more grounded in the present times of equality, than it actually was.
When a rather uncooperative police force don’t consider it necessary to investigate a couple of seemingly unrelated sudden deaths, in this small Sussex village, Flora feels compelled to step in and check things out for herself, as the effects of finding a dead body in her bookshop has rather ‘killed’ her custom! Poor Jack is drawn into Freya’s plans rather unwittingly and definitely against his better judgement, but actually discovers that he quite enjoys the notion of being involved in a crime, rather than writing about one. Still recovering from something of a broken heart, Jack also fights hard to resist the naive charms of a much younger Flora, but he fails dismally and has to cede to the mutual attraction he knows is blossoming between them.
They do say that ‘money is the root of all evil’ and that certainly seems to be the case as Flora and Jack finally unmask their gold-digging, treasure seeker, although the carnage this cold and calculating person leaves in their wake, together with the unnecessary loss of life, makes this a heinous crime in the truest sense of the word, especially as a forceful Flora is destined to be yet another of their ‘collateral damage’ statistics.
This multi-layered storyline, has been skilfully structured and executed with consummate ease and confidence, by an author who knows exactly in which direction she wants to take her readers and how she would like them to engage with her characters along the way. The narrative is lovely and textured and with some well placed added visual imagery to the words, Merryn has created a story which is rich in atmosphere, offers a real sense of time and place, putting the reader front and centre of the action and completely at ease. There are also one or two lighter, more playful interludes of interaction between Jack and Flora, which Merryn treats in a beautifully relaxed manner, whilst being able to ramp up the action again at a moments notice.
Merryn has created a multi-faceted, well drawn and defined cast of characters who, whether they are on the side of good or bad, are authentically realistic to the times and genuinely believable in the individual roles which have been created for them. Drawn from a diverse cross-section of society, they are relatable and easy to connect with, with some excellent dynamics and synergy ensuing between them. Although naturally, you have to pass the all important ‘do you fit into the community?’ test and be prepared to have your lifestyle examined to the nth degree first. The characters have then been given a strong enough voice, that they are able to direct and guide the storyline, with just the gentlest of author nudges every now and then. Jack and Flora made a great team within the wider community, balancing each other out, as they played to their individual strengths, and worked their way logically through all the possibilities of the case, which was well grounded in the facts of history, never making it too far-fetched.
The scope of my reading generally covers all the ‘e’ words, so for The Bookshop Murder, that would definitely include: Engagement; Enjoyment; Entertainment; Escapism and Emotion.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series. There are a couple of different paths the next storyline could take for Flora and Jack, and I need to know which one each of them chooses, whilst hoping that it will be the same one, as they became an addictive tour de force!