Thursday, 15 October 2015

Murder…. Now and Then by Jill McGown



published 1993



Murder now and then



‘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.


Murder now and then 2


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.’
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.’

Later, the pathologist is looking at a body:
‘Everything in beautiful condition – except for a broken bone in his hand which wasn’t set any too well.’
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?
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.

Definitely recommended for crime fiction fans.

Two choices of smart casual chaps to choose from.












18 comments:

  1. Good for her, indeed, Moira. It sounds as though McGown has developed some complex and very interesting characters in this story It's not always easy to do both well-drawn characters and a complex and tightly-knit plot And I do like the writing style in the snippets you shared. It sounds like a well-written story.

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    1. Yes - I enjoyed the book very much, but that interesting attitude to the sex workers made it certain that I would get hold of more of her books.

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  2. I don't think I've ever heard of this author - but you make her sound intriguing - love the quotes!

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    1. I found as I read her that I would be enjoying it as a straightforward crime story, then she would surprise and delight me with an unexpected joke or turn of phrase or attitude. Which is a very promising feature, isn't it?

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  3. Moira, I did not know about Jill McGown. It looks like she knew exactly what she wanted to write about. She certainly sounds "funny and entertaining."

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    1. I'm very taken with her at the moment Prashant, and do recommend her.

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  4. Never heard of this author, but went to Amazon and ordered Plots and Errors.

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    1. I hope you enjoy it. It is a very unusual book, and I loved it...

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  5. I remember enjoying her in the past, Moira, must try this one (when my book-buying moratorium is over!)

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    1. I'd forgotten how good she was... but don't want to threaten your embargo!

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  6. McGown is one of my favorite authors and I have read all of her Judy and Lloyd novels. It has been long enough ago that I can reread them without remembering who did it. At least that worked when I reread Plots and Errors. I do not understand why she is not more well known as a mystery author. The first book in the series was great and was not supposed to be the start of a series. When I read it I knew I wanted to read more but I also knew she could not repeat the exquisiteness of that one. Each one after that was very different from the others. I did like the earlier books in the series more than the last two or three.

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    1. I totally agree Tracy - I don't know why she isn't seen as one of the classics. Such clever books and such good characterisation. I love Plots and Errors, but there is so much in it that I don't think I could say what the final revelation is!

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  7. We.re getting a bit warmer, I have Plots and Errors in one of my future tubs 61 - 65!

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    1. It would be at the gentler end of your spectrum, but you might like it.

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  8. I have at least one of hers on my TBR - dashes off to check ... Yes, A PERFECT MATCH it is - must crack it opn - thanks Moira.

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    1. Do give her a try - I think that might be the first one? I just think she is very clever, and the books seem as though they are rather routine procedurals, but actually are much better.

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  9. I came across this excellent author many years ago but I struggled to find all of her books so I was delighted to find that they are now on the kindle - I read the first in the series earlier this year and will be working my way through the rest. Great post featuring an excellent crime writer

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    1. Thanks Cleo, and I totally agree, I am looking forward to catching up on all of them. I hope she gets the attention she deserves.

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