1997 mystery; first of Granger's novels of Fran Varady. Fran is
unemployed, broke, and about to be turfed out of her London squat
along with her three housemates. But one of those housemates is soon
going to turn up dead.
Fran is no sort of detective; she was going to be an actress, but
dropped out of that for various reasons, and is now doing casual work
when she can get it. But first the police assume that it was she or
one of her druggie friends who killed Terry; then when they can't
easily pin it on one of them they lost interest. A relative of Terry's
turns up, wanting to know more about why she'd run away, and it seems
clear that if Fran's ever going to find out what really happened
she'll have to go digging for herself.
I normally prefer stories about competent people. Fran has her
competences, but she also has huge blind spots, not to mention an
uncontrolled temper. She finds out various snippets of information,
but doesn't get very far; her interview technique is non-existent. But
I still found her appealing as a protagonist, in part because she
doesn't reel off a list of her own problems; Granger writes her well
enough that it's part of the reading experience both to work out what
they are and to see how they flow from her nature and experiences.
Pacing is a little off. The first 40% or so is the introduction and
investigation in London, which works very well. Then Fran heads for
the country to look into Terry's home life and try to work out what
she ran away from, and everything slows down drastically; there's a
setup that seems vaguely reminiscent of The Ivy Tree, with the
run-away daughter and the more distant relative who's put all his
sweat into the farm, though here it's without any question of
impersonation. This isn't Fran's environment, and she gets herself
into various types of trouble, not helped by the more distant relative
doing everything possible to put himself in the frame for Terry's
murder short of actually confessing. (And in spite of that, and of her
eventual suspicions of him, Fran allows herself to be sent out riding
with him. Of course things go wrong.)
Once we're back in London, for the last 10% or so of the book, things
improve again, with an effective reveal of what was going on (though I
had a more twisted idea that I think would have worked better) and a
pleasantly tantalising and realistic sense that, while the main events
are over, not everything has been set to rights, and there are
dangling ends that will never really be resolved.
(Though when Fran thinks, in the penultimate paragraph, "I didn't do
so badly as a detective and I might start up in business", clearly a
lead-in to the series, I couldn't help laughing: she only "solved"
this case by surviving when the unsuspected murderer came to kill
I don't usually mention whether I read a book or listened to a
recording of it, but in this case I think it's relevant: I listened to
the BBC Audio version read by Kim Hicks, who has a superb voice that
helped carry me over some of the rougher patches.
Followed by Keeping Bad Company.