Book Review: Fair of Face

Fair of Face, by Christina James, is the sixth novel in the author’s DI Yates series of crime thrillers. Set in contemporary Lincolnshire it first introduces the reader to Tristram Arkwright, an inmate of HMP Wakefield who, as a reward for good behaviour, works in the prison library. He strikes up an illicit correspondence with Jennifer Dove, a city analyst turned bookseller who supplies the maximum-security jail with its reading material. Bored with the ‘honest intentions and humdrum goals’ of the local citizens, Jennifer considers her secret correspondence with the incarcerated librarian an exciting diversion. Both are attempting to play mind games believing they can retain the upper hand.

The action moves to Spalding where the bodies of a mother and her infant daughter have been discovered in their beds. The house is run-down and in one of the roughest streets in town where everyone knows everyone else’e business and few men seem to stick around. The murder house had been checked after the postman found the front door wide open early in the morning on his rounds. The dead woman’s foster daughter, Grace, is missing.

DI Tim Yates and DS Juliet Armstrong are called in to investigate. When Grace reappears with a friend, Chloe, both girls are acting strangely. These ten year olds are gently questionned but do not seem able to account for their whereabouts over the weekend just past with any consistency. Chloe seems more upset about the two deaths than Grace.

Due to the girls’ ages social services become involved. Marie Krakowski is a big hearted woman who DI Yates resents for her determination to protect her young charges. Her persistent interference during formal interviews makes getting the truth from the two children a challenge. Another social worker, Tom Tarrant, is held in higher esteem. Both social workers are familiar not just with the girls and their chequered backgrounds but also their troublesome wider families, details of which they are reluctant to share citing client confidentiality.

The murder investigation keeps coming back to these youngsters, one of whom is a survivor from a previous violent attack on her family. Although the perpetrator of this atrocity was apprehended there are secrets to uncover that could potentially have a bearing on the more recent case.

There are a number of links between characters which I found somewhat challenging to follow – uncles, nephews, siblings, partners, employees and social workers had multiple interactions and a variety of roles. The point of view kept switching between chapters which interrupted my concentration as I worked out who was narrating and their relationships. Having a Tim and a Tom didn’t help my attempts to retain a coherent overview. I wondered if some of this would have been clearer had I read previous books in the series.

There are many detailed descriptions of clothes, some of which seemed unnecessarily acerbic:

“Marie was wearing a floor-length red cotton tartan skirt and a jacket with a nipped-in waist (insofar as it was possible to nip in Marie’s waist)”

One of the characters plays a role that subsequently appears superfluous to the plot.

Despite these minor criticisms the writing remains engaging. I had guessed many of the reveals early on but had by no means worked out them all. Introducing two ten year old girls as potential witnesses or even suspects to murder was a plot driver I haven’t encountered before. The difficulties this presented to the police investigation added food for thought.

A crime novel that held my attention and offered sufficient originality to make it worth the read. Where I am sensitive to what I regard as over emphasis on looks and dress, others will likely find this helps picture each scene.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

This post is a stop on the Fair of Face Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

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