Are you sitting comfortably?: A review of Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown

He was well enough connected to have secured a living in one of the prettiest villages in England, complete with a vicarage about which anyone might be moved to write poetry. Verdant lawns, bushes, shrubs, climbers; light-filled rooms with elegant lines, and old, good furniture. Wonderful views from its hilltop site, across three counties which today all lay under a shifting blanket of snow.

Do you like a cosy yet gripping whodunit? Is an English country village murder mystery your thing? Yes…? I bring to you Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown. Light the fire, make a hot drink and snuggle up in your favourite chair for it’s Christmas Eve and snow is falling heavily on the village of Byford when Chief Inspector Lloyd is called to attend a violent death at the vicarage. It soon emerges that the victim is the vicar’s son in law, estranged from his young wife. While it seems the suspects are few, the case proves to be more puzzling than straightforward for both the detectives and the reader. 

First published in 1988 under the title Redemption, this is Jill McGown’s second book featuring Chief Inspector Lloyd and Sergeant Judy Hill. There’s a lovely relationship  between the two detectives, both personally and professionally, and this is a great perk of the book. They are a very good sleuthing team and there’s some fine dialogue from them. McGown creates a strong double act, a duo that between them has the intellect, shrewdness, directness and dedication to solve murky, misleading and baffling mysteries. But it is their love affair which also had me hooked. It seems very genuine despite its complications and it is the catalyst for some truly touching moments.

He watched as Judy worked her way through her copious notes, in which every little puzzle had of course been entered, and he found himself thinking how soft and shining her hair looked, how pleasing the line of her jaw. Unprofessional. He had never admired Sandwell’s hair or Jack Woodford’s jaw-line, fine specimens, though they doubtless were.

Billed as a homage to Agatha Christie, this is indeed a traditional crime story in the sense that it is told sequentially; there are no flashbacks here. The golden age of detective fiction is also emanated by the whole point of the story (though it may sound obvious) being the unraveling of the mystery, and the elements of said mystery being clearly presented at an early stage. Our curiosity is then aroused throughout, with clues offered within the narrative leading to our gratification at the end and the great unveiling. It’s setting also follows the cosy whodunit format, in all its  picturesque snow-covered village glory, with an old isolated vicarage as the crime scene. There’s a non believing vicar with a wandering eye, his dutiful and dedicated wife, their seemingly hapless daughter, and the organ-playing harlot from the church playgroup. Except she’s no harlot, she’s just a woman that the vicar falls for, and this is just one example of how stereotypes are less stereotypical than in the golden age of crime genre. The balance of traditional and modern is just right. There’s no obvious classism which I find rife in Agatha Christie’s work, but there’s also no cringeworthy cop speak that I find abounds in contemporary crime fiction.

The reader is treated to a truly flummoxing whodunit. Who *did* do it? That’s the question we all want the answer to, isn’t it? But we also want to be taken on a riveting and stimulating investigative ride. There is much toing and froing in this investigation and the reader is allowed to feel included in the discussion. Paying attention is vital though! This is part of enjoying a crime mystery – picking up on details and clues that will add to the satisfied feeling at both the case and story’s conclusion.

Does that seem likely to you? He arrives drunk, gets drunker, beats her up, and it all ends happily ever after? Or would have done, if the invisible man hadn’t popped in and murdered him?

So what are you waiting for? Is the kettle on the boil? Is the fire lit? I hear that armchair calling! It’s time to lose yourself in a marvellous murder mystery.

Watching You from a Distance: A review of Random Attachment by Gertrude T. Kitty

Mia Dent is an ordinary girl, living a very lonely life in an inner city tower block housing estate where menace and violence is part of the everyday. She is very well adjusted considering she has a spiteful, unloving mother, and faces aggression and assault on a daily basis. She is living in an understated hell – a place where millions of Britons live – a neglected, ignored, inescapable hole of the unrepresented underclass. But Mia is a resilient and resourceful teen, and her undefeated spirit spurs her on to strengthen herself both mentally and physically. She aims to study hard and get a good education, while making her body ready for defence against the threat of daily attack. She is working on her confidence by building up her brain and her body. Mia is a wonderful character, and she makes rooting for her easy, even when she is misguidedly and embarrassingly stalking a man she spots on the tube one day.

This is Mia’s achilles heel. She is so busy obsessing over someone she has never met, that she has no inkling she’s being stalked herself and is the target of a serial rapist and killer. 

Random Attachment by Gertrude T. Kitty is a terrific book. I enjoyed reading it immensely. It is reminiscent of a gritty British police drama, and I could imagine it being a two or three part TV adaptation. The dialogue is superb and very up to the minute, although I found myself questioning the realism of Mia’s monologues to the detectives on a few occasions – yet this does serve to move the narrative along effectively – and belief can be suspended. I loved the references to parts of London, and, if you are somewhat familiar with the city, it greatly adds to the enjoyment of the book – in fact it’s quite a delight in this respect. It’s gripping and keeps you hooked and guessing. I was suspicious of all the characters at certain points, and I appreciated the way in which the narrative led me to do this. It’s a very modern and current piece of writing, portraying the here and now truthfully  and brilliantly.

Random Attachment is currently under the YA genre, however, as a humble reader, I would re-categorise it. Although I have little literary knowledge and no publishing knowledge, I would consider the crime fiction category to be more befitting. This fabulous read deserves to be nurtured by a recognised publisher and repackaged to reflect its magnificence. 

Essentially, I found Random Attachment to be a love story too. The author weaves romance into the story well, and, as a result,  I found myself harking back to those fresh, romantic days of my youth. Mia is easy to fall in love with as a reader: she is tremendously recognisable (for me, anyway!), and lacks any of the unpleasantness so often associated with fictional teens. She is a wonderful underdog, and is, undoubtedly, one of the excellent reasons to read Random Attachment. My love for RA is simple: it is a hugely entertaining book with a superb protagonist.