"Inspector Given is a very likeable chap, and it was his personal background and the setting of looming war which kept me turning the pages."
A Shadowed Livery
"Warwickshire, England, 1938. While Hitler and Chamberlain are preparing to sign the Munich agreement, the murderer of a Jewish shopkeeper is being hanged in Birmingham. After witnessing the execution, Inspector James Given, who brought the killer to justice, is surprised to find he has been taken off the investigation to pursue something completely different. Grovestock House, owned by the wealthy Barleigh family has witnessed a triple death. With the terrible events neatly written off as a murder and a double suicide, Given is supposed to tidy up a few loose ends with the help of local constable, John Sawyer. But Given is sure there is more to the case than meets the eye. What dark secrets were the Barleigh family hiding? Could there be another killer involved? And how will Given react when he is forced to confront the ghosts of his past…?"
A Pretty Folly
"England, March 1939. Murmurs of war are rippling through Europe, and violence against Jewish people is on the rise. Inspector James Given is busy trying to stop attacks on Jewish businesses in Coventry.But then a murder case lands in his lap. A young girl’s body is found in the crypt of a prestigious school. Part-mummified, it is hard to discover how long she’s lain there. But why wasn’t she reported missing? Has no one been looking for her? And could more lives be at risk?"
Both these books, which I assume will broaden out into an ongoing series (and I hope they do, as they are an enjoyable read), are narrated first person by our typical archetype detective, James Given. At least he seems to be the usual expected detective of many a mystery novel, but there is more to Inspector Given than first meets the eye. (No spoilers. I will say no more.)
The murder, or murders plural for the first novel, A Shadowed Livery, are fairly straightforward for the reader. Book two, A Pretty Folly, I found I enjoyed slightly more, as I preferred the sub-characters who were not quite as snobbish as the first lot - and the author had got more into his talented (and most promising) stride.
The murder mystery side to the novels is very typical of the Agatha Christie-type genre, and while well written and very well researched for the period, with nice little details that set you firmly in the 1930s, these are not action thriller novels, but a steady unravelling of 'whodunnit' - although for both books I guessed the culprit before the end. As with most novels of this Christie-like genre, the policemen themselves, Given included, were fairly predictable regarding the roles of bad cop, good cop, clever cop, naive cop.
So outside of a good read, not necessarily anything remarkable regarding the murder mystery itself, there is a but (and it is a big but) ... the sub-plot of Jewish culture and the hostility of antisemitism were brilliantly handled and lifted the novels to make them a thoroughly enjoyable read. For most novels and TV dramas of this genre it is the solving of the murder that takes centre stage, while the sub-plot of the detective's personal life adds the human interest. For these books I felt it was the other way round. The background and sub-plots were the most absorbing, with solving the murders, while necessary, were of secondary interest.
Inspector Given is a very likeable chap, and it was his personal background and the setting of looming war which kept me turning the pages. It is the start of the persecution of those of a Jewish faith, the rise of fascism and Hitler's Nazis. The characters are hoping that Chamberlain would accomplish peace, few people in England were aware of what was happening in Germany, Austria and further afield, but we, as readers, do know what horrors are around the corner. It is that knowing which brings an edge to these books, and an overwhelming compassion for the characters who are hurtling towards the abyss of World War II and the grimness of Nazi suppression and the concentration camps. I wanted to reach out and scoop Given and his family out of 1938 and set them down again in a safer era.
I look forward to further books because I genuinely want to know what happens next to the Inspector and his very likeable family and friends.
Brava Mr Garratt
© Helen Hollick
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