This is the sixth in Ann Granger’s series of historical mysteries featuring Inspector Ben Ross and his wife Lizzie. I was pleased when Ann Granger began a Victorian crime series as I’ve been a fan for years, really enjoying her Mitchell and Markby series, set in the Cotswolds, as well as her later Carter and Campbell novels. A prolific lady.
Ben and Lizzie Ross are very likable characters. The series is set in the late 1860s and began when Lizzie Martin came to London to be a companion to her ‘Aunt’ Parry – actually the widow of her late godfather. Her predecessor left in mysterious circumstances and Lizzie is drawn to investigate. The novels are mostly set in a particular district of London, though the second in the series took Lizzie to Hampshire’s New Forest. Much as I’ve liked them all, The Dead Woman of Deptford is my favourite so far.
On a cold November night, Inspector Ross is summoned to Deptford. The body of a well-dressed, middle-aged woman has been found in a rat-ridden yard between dilapidated buildings near the Thames. As always, the narrative is shared between Ben and Lizzie, both in first person.
Ann Granger has a lovely flow to her writing, making it hard to put down. Her characters and setting are vivid and believable. She writes with moments of humour, compassion for social injustice and shows many different layers of Victorian society; from the wealthy squares of the West End, Ben and Lizzie in their modest terrace near Waterloo station, to the bent old man collecting cigar stubs in the gutters.
The sights, smells and sounds of Deptford, its warehouses of spices and tobacco, raucous streets of dock-workers and foreign sailors, tenements and drinking dens are richly depicted. Rather like one of Atkinson Grimshaw’s moonlit quayside paintings come to life. It’s surprising that no production company has grabbed these novels for a television drama.
The solution to the murder is extremely satisfying. Ann Granger had me fooled, which is what I want as a reader. A lifelong love of reading detective fiction means I work out – or get an instinct for – the murderer far too often. It doesn’t necessarily detract from a great read but we all want to be hoodwinked. (Peter Lovesey is my benchmark for an author who dazzles with his deceptive plotting.) This time Ann Granger used a classic piece of misdirection worthy of Agatha Christie, very simple and effective. I’m kicking myself. In addition, I thought the psychology of the motive was eminently believable and thought-provoking.
Ann Granger’s name on the cover guarantees an excellent, detective novel in the classic English style. She’s always a pleasure to read.
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