‘And that’s Max Scott,’ said Anna to Detective Chief Inspector Lloyd, who was quizzing her on the people present. ‘He’s the new general manager.’ Max stood alone, watching the gathering with a faintly amused look as the local dignitaries pointedly stood with their backs to him. He was tall, his brown hair greying at the temples. Not conventionally good-looking; his face was a touch too long for that. The twinkle in his eyes, his light, casual clothes – obvious in amongst all the grey suits – signalled his refusal to take himself or anyone else seriously, though Anna knew that he was undoubtedly taking today rather more seriously than he wanted people to know.
‘He doesn’t seem exactly popular,’ said Lloyd.
‘Well …no,’ said Anna. Surely he must know about Max? It would appear not, she thought, as Lloyd looked at her with puzzled interest. She didn’t enlighten him. Far be it from her to give information to a policeman, even if all he would have to do was look in his own files.
commentary: This is another of the reissues by the splendid Bello books: Jill McGown died in 2007, having produced a dozen or so crime stories over the preceding 25 years. She’s not considered to be in the forefront of crime writers, but I think maybe she should be. Her books are immensely clever, funny and entertaining, and have tightly structured and well-constructed plots. She creates great characters, but she also produces real mysteries: when reading her books you never forget that she is trying to puzzle you, she wants you to keep on reading, she drops hints and strange remarks to keep you going.
One of her books – Plots and Errors – has, I think the single most complex plot I have ever read, despite its seeming to be a routine police procedural/ suburban crime story. I think she was playing with her readers in that one: the ongoing activities are outrageous, but not impossible, and she takes quite day-to-day features to make her plots. (It’s also one of my Hamlet quotation titles for a piece for the Guardian.)
This one is also quite complicated and I kept thinking I had solved the crimes, but then there would be something else – and there are many many subplots entwining the collection of people who live (or have just moved to) the small town of Stansfield, and are connected with a local company. Half the story takes place ‘now’ (ie 1993) and half of it looks back to events 15 years earlier, and crimes which contain the seeds of the modern problems. My only complaint would be that there is a really obvious possible plot point which doesn’t seem to occur to anyone, even though it would be the first thing to jump to mind in any crime book and (sadly) in real life too. It was hardly a surprise when it finally turned up.
McGown has a male/female investigating duo, Judy and Lloyd, trying to connect work and personal life – that seems to be absolutely standard in crime series now, but it’s well done: we look at their relationship now and 15 years ago, and there are strange parallels with some of the other relationships in the book.
The writing is excellent: I liked the unhappy, devastated wife who is ‘managing to make drinking a gin and tonic look like she was wringing a handkerchief.’
And a passing comment about a man whose alibi involves travelling to vote in a general election:
‘And while he was there he decided to go to a prostitute.’Later, the pathologist is looking at a body:
She raised her eyebrows, indicating her disbelief.
‘Doesn’t everyone?’ said Finch. ‘That’s why I hate stable government. The more elections the better, that’s what I say. Once every five years is a killer.’
‘Everything in beautiful condition – except for a broken bone in his hand which wasn’t set any too well.’One more unusual thing: there is a character who has been a sex worker in the past. There is no attempt to present that life in a positive way, and the after-effects linger on, having a direct connection with the plot. But McGown is completely non-judgmental, and also treats the woman as just another female character – perhaps a suspect, perhaps not telling the truth, but still: just like anyone else. And perhaps the policeman will fancy her. It’s only on reading such a plotline that you realize just how rare that is…. Good for her.
They were just like hairdressers, thought Judy. Who set that bone for you? Dear, oh dear, he made a right mess of that, didn’t he?
Definitely recommended for crime fiction fans.
Two choices of smart casual chaps to choose from.