My thanks go out to the lovely Vicky, representing publisher Head of Zeus, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.
As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.
THE DISTANT DEAD – (The Detective’s Daughter #8)
A woman lies dead in a bombed-out house. It looks like she’s another tragic casualty of the Blitz, until police pathologist Aleck Northcote proves she was strangled and placed at the scene. But Northcote himself has something to hide. And when his past catches up with him, he too is murdered.
Beneath the vast stone arches of Tewkesbury Abbey, a man has been fatally stabbed. He is Roddy March, an investigative journalist for a podcast series uncovering miscarriages of justice. He was looking into the murder of police pathologist Dr Aleck Northcote – and was certain he had uncovered Northcote’s real killer.
Stella Darnell used to run a detective agency alongside her cleaning business. She’s moved to Tewkesbury to escape from death, not to court it – but Roddy died in her arms and, Stella is someone impelled to root out evil when she finds it. Now she is determined to hunt down Roddy’s killer – but then she finds another body..
Lesley was born in 1958 and brought up in Hammersmith, West London. She graduated from Brighton University in 1981 and moved to Sydney, Australia the year after, where in between writing her first attempt at a novel, she sold newspapers in a shop at Wynyard underground station in the heart of the city.
Returning to London, Lesley held down several jobs to support her writing, including working for one of the first Internet companies in the UK. She completed an MA in English Literature at Sussex University and she is now a guest tutor on the Creative writing and Publishing MA at West Dean, where she also runs a crime-writing short course, leads workshops and takes master classes on writing crime novels.
Lesley currently divides her time between East Sussex and Gloucestershire, living with her partner and a raggedy poodle both of whom are treated to blow by blow accounts of scenes and twists in a plot at any given time. In fact, she doesn’t know how they sleep at night!
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“Independent bookstore are a valuable asset to any city, town or village. I spent many a happy hour – and my pocket, Christmas or birthday money – in them as a child. They are a offer us the latest literary releases, a meeting point where authors share their work and meet new readers and fans. They offer us a rich ‘bookish’ environment in which to browse before we buy. I love to sip coffee and leaf through my new purchase. I can be sure that independent booksellers know their stock, they suggest new authors and broaden my reading. Along with public libraries they are key to our communities”
PROLOGUE – THURSDAY, 12 DECEMBER 1940
“It used to be that a clear night with stars and a full moon spelled romance and love. Now, with the end of the longest period of all-clears since intensified raids began, the cloudless sky spelled death. In the small hours, the sky billowed with smoke from fires caused by incendiaries that pulverized pavements, destroyed homes, eviscerated lives”
CHAPTER ONE – DECEMBER 2019 – JACKIE
“Clean slate for a fresh start, Beverly speaking, how may I help you?” Beverly Jameson, blonde hair streaked with silver and a diamante-beaded scrunchie snatching it high up in a palm-tree effect, a short skirt over leggings and cherry blossom Dr Martens, rocked back in her chair, pen aloft. Jackie felt satisfaction at Bev’s opener. It was a good while – eight years? – since she’d weaned Bev off her dreadful sing-song rap to answer in lovely warm tones. Not that it was genuine, with Stella no longer there; neither of them felt as cheerful as Bev was sounding. In the mornings, it was all Jackie could do to get out of bed”
“Stella was unfazed by murder, it was life and all it threw at her from which she shrank”
“Never go back, you can’t cheat the passing of time”
“We kill time, we waste time and we fill in time. Beware, we cannot defy time”
“For the guilty, time knows no statute of limitation, the clock of crime is always ticking”
“Rules have exceptions and exceptions are the rule”
“Cotton could only think that one thing worse than failing to solve a murder was when you had solved it and the solution was worse than the not knowing”
“Murder ensnares those with secrets of their own”
“Bravery is a quality attributed by others in retrospect, terror consumes in real-time”
“Pay attention to the irrelevant, the peripheral and the outlandish, it can lead to the truth”
“She’s moved to Tewkesbury to escape from death, not to court it”
I feel as though I have lived every moment of this investigation with cleaner turned amateur detective, Stella Darnell and her team, and now I am all worn out and ready for a rest before my next case!
With the prologue really setting the scene, the pace of the ensuing storyline is defined, which although not fast paced, has an abundance of really quite dark and understated murders for our intrepid team of amateur sleuths to solve, before the rather satisfying conclusion is reached, and the ‘Detective’s Daughter’ lives to fight another day – but only just!
As I have come into the series with this, book #8, I can see that there is a backstory running through each episode, although the author did a good job of drip-feeding me the pertinent facts at just the right time, so that I never really felt short-changed in knowing what the characters were talking about and why they were interacting with each other in a certain way. For me personally, that was enough to make this book work fine as a stand alone story.
This dual timeline story, which begins during the London wartime blitz of 1940, and concludes many miles away in Tewkesbury several decades later, is told in alternating chapters, which are well signposted and kept short, so that tracking the many scene changes and keeping things fluid, is relatively straightforward.
This story definitely wasn’t written for the reader who likes their murders to be neatly packaged and compartmentalised. Everyone was both a suspect and a potential victim. My own suspect list had so many names on it, I began to lose track of them all, particularly as they were crossed off then added back on again, with every new twist and turn, of which there plenty. And No! I didn’t even guess the real perpetrator in the end, which was a little frustrating. There were just too many lies and secrets, so much double crossing and back-stabbing, that sorting out the guilty from the innocent, needed a criminology degree!
This multi-layered, well structured story, is richly textured and intense, as with potential suspects lurking around every corner, who is it safe to trust? The pace of the plot has natural peaks and troughs and the author has the skill, authority and confidence in her writing, to allow her characters a voice of their own and free reign to take control of a situation. At times the atmosphere is a little claustrophobic and almost too replete with detail, especially as much of the action takes place in the dead of night and, typically for England, during adverse and inclement weather conditions. However, for invoking a real sense of time and place and for ratcheting up the tension a notch or two, this was a great touch and never out of step with events as they occurred in either time period.
Complex family connections, a corrupt police investigation leading to a complete travesty of justice, and victims still seeking closure, revenge, retribution and truth, link these crimes, only separated by time, but never far from thought and definitely never forgiven or forgotten by so many. All the result of one person’s incontrovertible belief, that their status in the community gave them carte blanche to behave in whatever way they chose without justification, made them untouchable and immune from suffering any consequences, even when their heinous crimes are uncovered, with the shifted burden of guilt even transcending their death.
Author Lesley Thomson, has created a large sprawling cast of well drawn, defined and developed, characters, only a small percentage of which I was particularly eager to engage with, which is exactly as it should have been, given the many personal vendettas and rivalries involved. Although Stella herself is an authentic and genuinely believable character, she still comes across as a very emotionally complex person, even somewhat vulnerable, in that she seems almost reluctantly desperate to carry on in her detective father’s footsteps, as if to honour him and keep his memory alive in some way. In that respect, maybe she is still trying to find her place in life, searching for a sense of belonging and trying to decide whether beginning a new life with Jack and his young family, is really the right road for her to take towards her future happiness.
As a purely personal connection and a nod to the author, Stella also has a constant companion of the four-legged variety, a poodle called Stanley, whose bark is much worse than his bite, although both would make any unsuspecting potential attackers think twice!
I was always led to believe that “revenge is a dish best served cold”, although Stella and her team are very much of the opinion that it can be served at any temperature, and I have to say, I can see where they are coming from!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!