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Fledgling PI Lexy Lomax, now living in a converted beach-hut with her homicidal Chihuahua Kinky (actually he isn't at all homicidal as he only attacks four-legged animals but I am not sure besticidal is a word!) in the Suffolk village of Clopwolde-on-Sea, is approached by a sixteen-year old girl called Rowena Patterson. Rowena's request is somewhat eccentric to say the least; she wants to find out if she was responsible for the death of Elizabeth Cassall, who fell out of her bedroom window recently. Rowena, distraught at the loss of the family business, had performed an arcane ritual; soon afterwards she received the news that Elizabeth, whom she had never met, had died and left her thirty-thousand pounds and her cottage. Reasonably enough given the circumstances she is wondering if her ritual is responsible and she wants Lexy to investigate.
Lexy would love to decline the invitation but not only is she desperate for cash, she is also desperate to get out of Clopwolde as her ex-husband Gerald has turned up looking for her. So she agrees to take the case and moves temporarily into Elizabeth's cottage. Her suspicions are soon drawn by the odd behaviour of the family who own the nearby farm; the Gallimores, father and sons, are very obviously disturbed by her presence at the cottage; and even more disturbed when she is joined by Rowena, her sister Gabrielle and father Steve. With Gerard a lurking menace Lexy's life is very complicated and she needs all the assistance which her police friend Milo can give her to sort things out.
The 'second book' is always a big challenge; Hill's (and Lexy's) debut DEAD WOMAN'S SHOES was a very promising start - the question was would THE FALL GIRL see her develop and get better? I am glad to say that it most definitely does. We need a sparky female PI featuring in books with a comic edge. In my review of DEAD WOMAN'S SHOES I used the term 'semi-comic mystery' but I now think this may be misleading; certainly there is plenty of wit and humour in Hill's writing, particularly in Lexy's interior monologues, but the books are grounded in their plots - mysteries with a comic edge might be a better description.
The most important way in which THE FALL GIRL in the series represents an advance is that the plotting is much tighter and more concentrated. In some ways this is all the stranger in that the eventual solutions are something of a shaggy dog story - or at least one of them is. In fact it is eventually revealed that there are two plots which are not really connected other than through Lexy's muddled thinking. I admit that I was astonished I had not guessed one of these plots - whether this was down to Hill's skill in telling the story or my stupidity I am not sure! The other is something of a delight, if a little improbable. But a little improbability does no harm at all in a mystery of this kind. This tightening up and concentration in the plotting means that the book is better paced and more involving than the first one. The length is exactly right and this is a book which can be read with great enjoyment in two or three extended sittings.
In terms of the uniqueness both books have at their centres plots which revolve to some degree or another around animals (and not just Kinky). Now pulling this off without becoming twee, which Hill never does, is a very considerable feat. Whether this is going to be a constant feature of the series I do not know; it will certainly tax her powers of invention. But it will add a very distinctive flavour. If she can accomplish it.
THE FALL GIRL has all the strengths of the first book - charm, sparkle, good prose and engaging, if simple, characterisation. It adds development of Lexy's character, the reappearance of series characters (it is worth saying that it would be worth reading the books in series order although THE FALL GIRL will still work even if you have not read DEAD WOMAN‘S SHOES) and better, tighter and more concentrated plotting.
Taken together these things mean that we have not only a book that is a fine achievement in itself, but the promise of a series that could be a source of real delight in years ahead if Hill continues to sustain her development. Of course this kind of light mystery with a comic edge will not be to everyone's taste but if you appreciate this kind of writing then I would advise you to make acquaintance with Lexy (and Kinky) at the earliest opportunity.
Reviewed by Nick Hay, October 2009
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