* Prices may differ from that shown
The bodies of two farmers, Aaron and Jack Summers, are found in their isolated farmhouse; both dead from shotgun wounds, presumably the shotgun that sat in their hallway for anyone to pick up and use. Yet the Summers barely had any contact with anyone else, and they certainly didn't seem to have any enemies. DI Joanna Piercy is stumped - until she finds out that there is a missing member of the family, a daughter called Ruthie. Is she in hiding because she killed her father and brother? Or is she lying somewhere injured or dead herself? As practically the only lead, a nationwide search sets out to find her. But is she the solution to the case, or is there something that Joanna Piercy is overlooking?
I have previously read and enjoyed a book in the Joanna Piercy series by Priscilla Masters, an author who is perhaps best known in her home county of Staffordshire, where she bases her books. Having thoroughly enjoyed this one, I really believe Masters deserves to be better known - her novels are head and shoulders above some that are written by much better known authors. Masters has mastered (sorry) the art of story telling, keeping things simple and not giving away too much, that many authors of crime fiction seem to have forgotten about, choosing to blind the reader with science instead.
Joanna Piercy is a very determined woman, wanting to do her best within all parts of her life. Her addiction to her career, however, does tend to blind her to the personal side of her life at times; her boyfriend, Matthew, wants to settle down and have children, but Joanna isn't keen to do either, thinking that it will interfere with her job. I suppose she is a female version of a stereotypical male detective, except that she doesn't seem to drink an awful lot. Generally I like her, I can understand her need for space and independence. However, she does have one annoying trait - she is very jealous of Matthew's daughter from a previous relationship and she refuses to have anything to do with her, causing Matthew great pain. I could understand the jealousy, but I found the way she turned her back on Matthew when his daughter was staying with him a bit hard to take. It does, however, make her seem very human, and far from the automaton that she is while walking.
There is a little sexual tension added into the mix with Joanna's colleague, Mike Korpanski. Mike is married, but it is clear that his marriage is not entirely happy and that, given half a chance, he would make a move on Joanna. Joanna seems to return his feelings, but because of her relationship with Matthew, the chances of anything happening seem remote. This is only a very small thread of the story, but it is an enjoyable one, and one that promises to continue over the course of the series.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story; it really is well told, and reminded me of the great crime fiction storytellers of the past, such as Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. It is obviously set in the modern age, with the use of tools such as the Internet and mobile phones, yet it is good old-fashioned police methods that are shown to win the day. At times, I did question some of the forensic methods, which didn't seem to fit in with what I thought was the correct procedure (not that I'm an expert), but it really didn't alter the fact that the story is highly entertaining - in fact, it made it more so, because oversights in procedure enabled key clues to be kept back until later in the novel. The story is mainly told from the point of view of Joanna, but occasionally changes to other characters to give a fresh angle.
I have to admit that the setting for the story, near Leek in Staffordshire, did help to bring the book alive for me. I was born and bred in Staffordshire, although I don't know Leek particularly well, and I think that Priscilla Masters has helped to describe the area in a really attractive way. Most people equate Staffordshire with the Potteries, and industry, but this is not all it has - the countryside in which the book is set is surprisingly wild and lovely, and this really comes through in Masters' descriptions.
I really enjoyed this book; I found it hard to put down and finished it in three sittings, unable to leave the last 150 pages until I'd found out what happened. The story isn't exactly original, but the way it is told sets it off brilliantly. I read an awful lot of crime fiction and honestly think this book is better than some written by authors such as P D James and Ian Rankin. If you're looking for a new author, you could do a lot worse than try Priscilla Masters, and this book is as good a place to start as any in the series. Recommended.
The book is available from play.com from £3.34. Published by Allison and Busby, it has 297 pages. ISBN: 9780749003586