RogerBW's Blog

Dying on Principle, Judith Cutler 21 July 2017

1997 mystery; third of Cutler's novels of Sophie Rivers, a teacher in a sixth-form college in Birmingham. Seconded to a new college for a project, Sophie finds the proximity to her home and the high equipment budget don't compensate for a strange managerial attitudeā€¦ or for murder.

There's obvious political ranting here, not only about the corporatisation of Birmingham's colleges but about the changes in the law that had quietly made effective strike action impossible ("first they came for the miners"). But that's a relatively minor part of the story; and so, too, are the two murders, because really this book is about Sophie, her awkward relationship with DI Chris Groom, and the pushy middle-aged man who seems suddenly to keep appearing in her life, even though he doesn't seem actually to like her much.

It's not that the murders aren't important, and Sophie investigates as she has before; it's that she's not a detective, she's a teacher, and she has other things to do, having to squeeze in moments of investigation between fighting with the college and dashing off to teach an A-level class. But the unmasking of the villain is delayed mostly by the reader's remaining sense of plausibility rather than by any lack of evidence.

There's plenty of Birmingham geography, but less of the multi-ethnic feel that I enjoyed in the earlier books. On the other hand Sophie is not one of those static series characters; she's learned some new skills since last time we saw her, and she slowly grows as a person too. This isn't great mystery writing, but it's remarkably good writing full stop.

Followed by Dying for Millions.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:10pm on 21 July 2017

    I lived in Yorkshire during the miners strike. They acted in thoroughly unethical and illegal ways and genuinely needed cutting down to size. Picketing the places of work of completely unrelated workers and industries? Intimidating people so they're too scared to go to work? This is behaviour I cannot accept. I make no comment on subsequent legal changes.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:36pm on 21 July 2017

    Yes, that's exactly the point. Any time you want to bring in a repressive law in a democracy, you point at the Bad Nasty People and claim that the law will help deal with them. Which it will. You just don't mention that it'll also help deal with everyone else who sticks their heads up.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:34pm on 21 July 2017

    Arguably no new laws were needed, since threatening and intimidating people were already illegal. It just needed the existing laws policing effectively, which they weren't. My parents knew people that changed job due to being too scared to cross the flying picket lines the miners set up at their places of work.

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