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by Veronica Stallwood
Headline, April 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0755326407

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If I've read any Veronica Stallwood in the past, they've slipped my mind. OXFORD LETTERS, her latest book, is fine, but it didn't persuade me to go back and search out the back catalogue.

Kate Ivory is an Oxford-based novelist. She has a loving but slightly distant relationship with Jon, a senior police officer. And she has an even more distant, but slightly weird relationship with her mother Roz.

They're not a mother and daughter who live in each other's pockets. But Kate starts to worry when a smarmy married couple seem to have taken over Roz's life, complete with health food and hippy-dippy remedies. But Roz continues to look very ill, and Kate cannot help but worry. As she digs deeper, she discovers some worrying facts about Marcus and Ayesha.

Kate has a novel to finish, but it doesn't stop her gallivanting round Oxford and the south of England in an attempt to find out the real story behind the sinister couple.

The plotting is generally sound, although there's one annoying femjep moment, and a plot twist which waved cheerily from quite some way away -- the kind where you find yourself shouting at the main character "oh come on, can't you see . . .!"

Kate's not a particularly dim heroine, I hasten to add. But she's not one you warm to. Stallwood's rather laidback writing style reminds me of Marianne MacDonald, but without the dry humour that infuses the Dido Hoare books. In a crowded market, Stallwood needs something to set her leading character apart from the pack.

Where she does score highly, though, is in her portrayal of Oxford, ranging from the college and town haunts that the students and tourists see, to the quieter suburbs. If you've enjoyed Colin Dexter's Morse novels, you might want to give Stallwood a go.

OXFORD LETTERS was a quick and easy read, zipped through one Sunday afternoon with the rain pounding down outside. Stallwood tells a story well, but her characters lack a little sparkle. The book's fine, just not terribly memorable.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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