The Detective's Daughter by Lesley Thomson

published 2013   section set in 1985

The classroom door bashed him when the boy in front let it go. He held it for a boy with a runny nose who stepped on his heel, pulling off his shoe. The boy did not say sorry. Jonathan bent to do up his laces. ‘We are going to be last.’ Simon squeezed his fingers tight.

The playground was behind the neo-Gothic mansion and a trek from the classroom. The twenty boys crocodiled across a quadrangle of cobblestones. It was a flaw in the conversion from private house to institution that the cloakroom could only be reached by a circuitous route involving going outside without coats. The boys’ pinched faces were whipped by a harsh wind off the South Downs that swirled leaves and twigs around their grey-socked legs. They were not allowed to run. Jonathan turned his ankle on the wet cobbles; his new shoes cut into his shins and rubbed the back of his heels. He longed to break free from Simon’s grip. 

observations: Poor Jonathan. He’s the son of a murder victim, and has been sent away to what someone later describes as Dotheboys Hall. One had hoped that the traditional boys’ prep school, a horrible British institution, wasn’t quite that bad by the mid-80s, but perhaps it was.

This really excellent book doesn’t hold back on the bad results of the murder, but is also very good on detection and relationships. It’s long, but there were still a few bits that weren’t clear to me, maybe loose ends (what did happen to Simon?) – the climax goes on forever and is very detailed but still seems to leave vital bits out. But all that said, The Detective’s Daughter is superb: a wonderful picture of London in the snow, a slow unveiling of what really happened to Kate Rokesmith, and a look at parent-child relations. 

Stella Darnell, the eponymous daughter, is going through her father’s house after his death, and finds a box-full of papers relating to a long-gone murder case – he was a retired policeman. That’s a very enticing setup for a crime fiction fan, and, even better, Stella and her worrying ally Jack (about whom we know more than she does) make a most appealing team, even though they are both distinctly odd. There is a very creepy atmosphere at times in the book, the tension is very well done. It becomes fairly obvious who the criminal is about three-quarters of the way in – but I couldn’t have stopped reading on for any money. A wonderfully good book, and I am certainly going to seek out her previous novel, A Kind of Vanishing.

Links on the blog: Jennings and Derbyshire are at prep school, but much happier.

The picture of cricketing schoolboys is from the National Library of Australia.


  1. Moira - I can see why you liked this so much! I do like that premise of looking through papers and letters and finding old mysteries. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. I thought it was a great combination of the old-fashioned 'look through the docs and solve the murder' and a more modern psychological thriller: exactly what I enjoy.

  2. This is very interesting. Creepy doesn't appeal, but it sounds different. I like different. Doesn't look like it is easily available here, so that gives me time to think about it.

    1. I know what you mean Tracy - I need to be in the right mood (and place!) for creepy. But it's a good character-based novel. My one criticism would be that people were always dropping the torch/flashlight, leaving their mobiles behind,I could do with some better excuses for the jeopardy. But overall, a really good book.


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