I realised that the first review of this book was quite flippant and superficial… I read it as part of my course in Crime Fiction and the more I delved into the subject the more I thought about it and the more I felt the need to revised what I’d written.

What a surprising read this was.

Robert Blair is a lawyer in a small town, whose biggest worry is that he’s getting tired of ‘the inevitability of the biscuit routine: the placid certainty that it would be digestive von a Thursday and petit-beurre on a Monday. […] … once or twice lately an odd, alien thought had crossed his mind, irrelevant and unbidden. As nearly as it could be put into words it was: ‘This is all you are ever going to have’. And with the thought would come that moment’s constriction in his chest.’

And then the phone rings.

Marion Sharpe, a spinster, and her elderly mother live in a big Manor House and they’ve been accused of having kept a fifteen year old girl locked up in their attic, beaten her and starved her.

There is no dead body, no blood spilled, only lots of classic sleuthing, question asked, linear narrative, places analysed, backgrounds checked, personality studied. We know from the beginning who to root for and who the ‘badies’ are… there isn’t much in terms of classical suspense… – it’s not scary – however it will keep you gripped and entertained till the end. It’s the perfect winter afternoon read, big comfortable chair and giant cup of tea.

That is one way of reading the novel, and it’s what I did during the Christmas holidays… BUT, there’s a lot more about it… Under the surface it is actually quite dark. Kidnapping and beating? Young under-age girls, – manipulated or manipulative – in under-age relationships, lying, shaming, snobbery… I could go on. But it’s all wrapped up in a nice, cozy narrative in middle class England that it fools you.

It’s dated, clumsy in its social representation and stereotyping… there’s a lot of tea mentioned and tweed and golf, and good claret… but… we must keep in mind the time it was written… by modern standards there are some problematic issues relating to social classes and toxic masculinity, and sexism, but that can be applied to any book written in times, I think that as long as one is aware of these and is critical of them, this book can still be enjoyable.

Read it, I still encourage you to, but perhaps don’t get too comfortable on that chair. Maybe that is the sign of a well written book… it tricks you into believing everything is ok when it’s not… what do you think?

With that in mind, I still enjoyed it. It made me smile, it was well written and I liked the characters… regardless of the slightly gruesome premises.

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