A Fatal End by Faith Martin:  A nail-biting mystery – book review -

When the lead singer with a Sixties band dies at a back street club in Oxford, an inquest jury returns a verdict that his death was accidental.

A Fatal End by Faith Martin
A Fatal End by Faith Martin

But the city coroner, Dr Clement Ryder, is suspicious and to prove his theory that Ray Reason’s death was not a tragic accident but the work of a killer, he is going to need the help of an undercover police officer.

For over 30 years, million-copy bestseller Faith Martin has been thrilling her readers with a raft of classy novels… written in four different genres and under four different pen names.

Feted for her smart and sassy DI Hillary Greene police series set in and around Oxford, Martin once again uses the dreaming spires of her home town for this brilliant Ryder and Loveday mystery series starring an unlikely and excitingly original crime-fighting partnership.

Set in the early Sixties, when male detectives were misogynistic dinosaurs and women detectives were regarded as superfluous to requirements, these excitingly authentic whodunits feature a rookie policewoman and a middle-aged, old-school coroner who join forces to defy convention and dig out the truth.

In Oxford in 1963, those youngsters who think of themselves as ‘rebels’ can find no better place for a night out than the dark and dingy Bootleggers Club where, rumour has it, real criminals can be found, people dance the night away to their favourite band, and the bar staff turn a blind eye to under-age drinkers.

But behind the scenes, there is trouble… an argument is brewing between members of up-and-coming band, the Rainbirds, a bunch of young musicians in a different class to ‘the usual long-haired rabble.’ Ray Reason, blessed with brooding good looks, calls himself the lead singer but the truth is that lanky, ‘goofy-looking’ Marty Cuthbertson writes the music and shares the singing.

And both young men have possessive girlfriends with ambitious plans for their partners. Lindy-Lou Kempson, Ray’s girl, is pregnant and wants to make sure he will ‘stick by her’ when he finds out. Marty’s fiery girlfriend, Jenny ‘Wren’ Renfrew, is equally determined that Ray isn’t going to take over from her boyfriend as leader of the band.

Meanwhile, the club manager, Felix Simpkins, is callously creaming off profits and wealthy, influential ‘star-maker’ Titus Crowther-Beauley is eyeing up the Rainbirds and hoping to make ‘a nice little gold mine’ out of the band.

But what looks like a tragic accident leaves Ray Reason dead. His body was found halfway down a spiral staircase at the Bootleggers. An inquest jury decides it was an accidental fall but coroner Clement Ryder, known as the ‘old vulture,’ is not convinced.

His trusted police contact, WPC Trudy Loveday, knows there’s only one thing for it… she is going to investigate undercover, deep in the underbelly of Oxford nightlife. But to help keep her safe, Trudy will be accompanied in her hunt for the truth by Clement’s architect son, Vincent, who is currently staying with his father.

And all is not what it seems with Clement. He is fighting a secret battle with Parkinson’s disease and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep his illness hidden. Vincent knows his father is struggling but Trudy is in the dark and it means discovering who murdered the singer might not be the only shock in store for the trusty police officer…

There is so much to love about A Fatal End, the eighth book in a gripping series noted for its labyrinthine plotting, stunning twists and turns, an exquisitely drawn cast of characters, and – without the help of modern technology – some wonderfully entertaining, good old-fashioned detective work.

The feisty policewoman and the wise ‘old vulture’ are the dream team of contemporary, cosy crime fiction when it comes to delivering the sort of clever, complex detection work made famous by the likes of Agatha Christie and the other big names of the Golden Age.

Without the help of mobile phones, CCTV, the internet or forensics, the ailing but not quite down-and-out master and his brave and increasingly capable young ‘pupil’ steal the show in fine style in this baffling case set against the fascinating backdrop of the vibrant Sixties pop scene and a seedy back street nightclub.

And once again Martin woos her readers with an intriguing line-up of suspects – from Ray’s volatile and vengeful girlfriend Lindy-Lou to the manipulative Titus – with the added bonus of a romantic frisson between Vincent and Trudy.

But there is also an air of melancholy and finality lingering around proceedings in Clement’s hunt for justice. Could this be the coroner’s swansong or has Martin got other plans for our odd couple sleuths? Another nail-biting mystery awaits…

(HQ, paperback, £8.99)