Owen, Marjorie - 'Ladies of Class'
The fact that Laura Clayton is about to die comes as no surprise - in fact we are told that it will happen right from the beginning of LADIES OF CLASS. The reason for her death however is not clear. Laura has lived in the English village of Burshill for thirty years. Widowed for five years, she is a pillar of the community, highly regarded by the vicar and his wife, and an old friend of the Chief Constable. She shouldn't have had an enemy in the world, but her death proves that she did. When two more women die, both of whom knew Laura, then the police need to look for more links.
Newly promoted Detective Chief Inspector Richard Hayward broke his leg, not in the course of his duties, but by slipping on a patch of ice. So his mother Ella is helping him move into his new house at Burshill. The Chief Constable requests that Richard make an early return to work to take on the Laura Clayton case. Richard's New Zealand born wife Kate has gone home to visit her sick father and Ella becomes his sounding board in an increasingly complex and tricky case.
LADIES OF CLASS is written very much in the style of the village cosy, with many of the hallmarks of Golden Age writing. Despite the fact that three deaths occur in quick succession, they are presented in that peculiarly flat, almost bloodless, style characteristic of the period. Dialogue dominates the structure of the novel, and the author tends to underline the importance of certain events and statements, presumably to ensure that we don't miss their significance.
For me there were things that didn't quite work given the period of the setting, which I thought was the late 1960s. Long distance telephone calls have to be booked, in keeping with the times, while long distance aeroplane journeys seem to be accomplished in very short time. The author's attempt to render cockney speech verbatim was just a little irritating too, but she attempted it, thankfully, with just one character.
Despite these minor annoyances, the plot is well woven, the characters carefully drawn, and there was just enough to trouble "the little grey cells." There are plenty of readers who will find this a satisfying read. The first chapter of LADIES OF CLASS can be read online at http://startatbeginning.blogspot.com/2007/10/ladies-of-class.html
Review reprinted with the kind permission of the author.
Kerrie Smith, Australia
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