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by Barbara Cleverly
Soho, May 2018
368 pages
ISBN: 1616958766

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Detective Inspector John Redfyre has been assigned to the police serving Cambridge, England much to the department administration's relief. With its prominent university, the city has long suffered from the tensions between "town and gown" and Redfyre brings with him his upper class background, his fine education, and his qualities of high intelligence and patient consideration, not to mention his years of experience and steady advancement. This brand new venture by very successful novelist Barbara Cleverly is simply stellar and the fact that it is intended as the first installment of an ongoing series brings me joy. Well-written, strong series are not so easy to find.

As the story opens, Redfyre is feeling pressured and maneuvered by his dear and elderly Aunt Hetty into attending a concert to which she has tickets she can't use. It is to be a Christmas concert in the St. Barnabas College chapel featuring what to me is the odd coupling of just an organ and a trumpet -- however, possibly no singing along which evidently is something Redfyre much prefers not to do. Gracious as always, Redfyre agrees. Curious as always read suspicious Redfyre wonders to whom Aunt Hetty is giving the other ticket for the seat beside him. It will be a female, young, lovely, and unmarried: all meant to tempt him out of his bachelorhood. Two nights later he finds himself ensconced beside a rather brazen feminist (but one definitely young, lovely, and unmarried) and discovers that the trumpet player will be a young woman, something unheard of and entirely unacceptable in the social arena of 1920s England.

The trumpet player turns out to be spectacularly talented and skilled and the concert a wondrous success after the opening shock at her gender. But, of course

There is an attempt on the trumpet player's life right after the close a curtain tie strung across the unlit staircase she must navigate in heels to reach the ground level of the chapel and she comes crying out and clattering tail over teakettle all the way, ending unconscious but alive in a heap at the bottom.

Redfyre leaps into action and has those in his command get an ambulance and hang onto the young woman who sat in that other seat for he is already considering the possibility of her involvement in the supposed accident which so obviously is not accidental at all. Perhaps, he thinks, a publicity stunt to advance women's rights in some way. Certainly to Redfyre, this is something worth following up after the emergency is taken care of and he has carefully searched the "scene."

And from there, we are off to a very complex set of races indeed.

This is a retro novel and very possibly not every reader's cuppa okay, maybe not a bunch of readers' cuppa. It reaches back to the works of P. G. Wodehouse and the great mystery writers of his time but is written in such a way that the present-day reader can be totally engaged. The caveat with Barbara Cleverly is clearly that this series will not be a quick summer beachside read. Her level of writing forces not only the close and careful attention of the reader but his or her active mental participation in the unfolding of the plot and the untangling of the mystery.

Oh, what a gift!

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, May 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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