The glorious natural beauty of England’s Lake District, which contains its largest lake, rising fells, and every kind of tree found in the UK, hardly seems to present typical murder landscape. Yet Auntie M has chosen it twice for her own Nora Tierney Mysteries–The Green Remains and 2014’s The Scarlet Wench–and she’s certainly not alone. Two masters have series set in the land of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.
With a strong feeling for the history of crime novels, Martin Edwards is the archivist for both the Crime Writers Association and for the Detection Club. His talk this year at St. Hilda’s reminded us that the Golden Age authors had more psychological depth than is generally acknowledged. Edwards’ knowledge of crime novels and history is extensive and he is a fascinating speaker.
Author of stand-alones, short stories and multiple essays on crime, he is best known for two series: the Liverpool Harry Devlin series and the newer one that explores the Lake District and features DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind.
The Frozen Shroud explores the hidden depths of the small yet remote and diverse locale. Highlighting the landscape and its ability to capture loveliness with menace are the hallmark of this series, confirmed in this sixth offering in the series.
With his vivid descriptions and an overlapping of murders to be solved, The Frozen Shroud capitalizes on a creepy local legend with links to the past and two murders on Hallowe’en that bear the same characteristics. Daniel Kind’s love of research of murder adds to the atmosphere, and Hannah Scarlett’s work situation, fraught with stress and coupled with the the rising tension between these two fascinating characters, adds to the texture of the novel.
There are plenty of red herrings that bring this series along classical lines, making it a totally satisfying and complex crime novel. The dialogue and prose are literate and realistic. Old hurts, revenge, misconceptions and plain old jealousy rear their head as motives. The characters living near the haunted ground of Ravensbank all have secrets with ties to the past, and it would be cruel to tell readers more without spoiling the plot. If you haven’t read this atmospheric series, now’s the time to grab one and then gobble them all up.
Rebecca Tope, journalist and author, has four murder series in print: Den Cooper, Devon police detective; Thea Osborne, house sitter in the Cotswolds; undertaker Drew Slocombe; and now her newest series set in the Lake District and featuring florist Persimmon Brown.
I met Tope at St Hilda’s and again in September at Bouchercon, where her British perspective on the differences of mysteries by English and American writers added to her panel discussions. Warm and lively, Tope seems to find the time to write prolifically while living in rural Herefordshire, on a smallholding situated close to the beautiful Black Mountains. She raises Cotswold sheep along with two elderly dogs. Her evenings are spent spinning, knitting and weaving, and she takes commissions for big pure wool throws and blankets. Recently added alpacas will make soft baby blankets available. Now where does she find time to write?
Tope’s mind must be working all the time her hands are busy on new plots and characters. Introduced in The Windermere Witness, Simmy Brown’s Windermere florist shop seems an unlikely setting for involving her in murders. With her unconventional parents living nearby, running a B&B, Simmy is getting used to her new home post-divorce in Troutbeck. Her shop assistant, Melanie, and a smart teen, Ben, with a bent for investigation, form Simmy’s “team,” to the chagrin of the local detective, DI Moxon.
The Ambleside Alibi, book two in the series, finds Simmy unwittingly providing an alibi for a murder suspect, immediately after delivering a bouquet to a grandmotherly sort, sent from a granddaughter the old woman apparently didn’t know she had.
Then another elderly woman is found murdered and a host of family secrets will be unearthed that may or may not tie the two women together. Against her better judgement, Simmy finds the peaceful new life she envisioned for herself once more fraught with danger and murder. When an attempt is made on her life, she knows she’s become more involved than she’d ever imagined.
Moxon provides a nice foil to Simmy, a reluctant witness and even more reluctant investigator, as he becomes exasperated in his attempts to protect Simmy while finding a murderer. The relationship between these two seems unlikely yet possibly inevitable down the road, a side aspect to drive readers look for the third installment in the series premiering in 2014, The Conistan Case.