Saturday, 12 January 2013

Like False Money: Penny Grubb

Genre - Crime Thriller

As most of you know, my secret addiction is to thrillers, which I consume like (and mostly instead of) boxes of chocs.  So I'm always happy to discover a new author.  Having read every Camilleri, every Anne Zouroudi or Kate Atkinson and, over Christmas, re-read every Margery Allingham I possess, I was glad when Penny Grubb's novel arrived through an online book site I review for (the Booktweeting service), with a new, female, protagonist I hadn't met before.

Like False Money is the first book in Penny Grubb’s series about the young private investigator Annie Raymond.  It’s Annie’s first - temporary - job and she knows that she has to prove herself in order to stay in the business.   The agency that employs her is based in Hull, a city in a part of England that’s unfamiliar to her and probably to many of the readers too.  It’s a good setting - there’s a dramatic landscape of sea and fenland and the city provides a wide range of class and racial contrast with all the social conflict created by a once thriving international port now struggling for its existence in tough economic times.

Annie Raymond is sent to Hull because one of the agency’s directors has fallen down a staircase and broken her leg. It takes Annie a while to realise that this may not have been entirely accidental.  In the beginning there isn’t a lot to do except make coffee for her sofa-bound employer.  There’s only one case to work on that doesn’t seem promising - investigating the apparently accidental death of a local journalist, Terry Martin, whose parents are obsessed by the desire to know the truth about how he died and where he was in the two days before his body was found.  The trail soon peters out and - with no other work on the books - Annie fears that she will soon be on a train back to London.

But nothing is accidental  - after all this is a thriller.  Why are the directors of the agency at war with each other?  Who are the three young girls who come to the funeral?  And what do they have to do with the joyriders who interrupt the funeral procession?  What is it that Terry has discovered in the disused shed?   Too late, Annie realises that her intuitions have let her down and her own life is in danger from a killer she didn’t suspect.  The ending is absolutely gripping.

I liked the way the author spelled out the realities of life as a private investigator in the modern world - the bread and butter slog of finding people for worried families, plugging the gaps left by an overworked, underfunded police force.  Annie’s relationship with the police is sometimes strained by mistrust (and sometimes by lust!) but in the end they need each other.  People will often talk to an ordinary person and give them information they wouldn’t give to the police.  Annie has the time to listen and her intuition isn’t hemmed in by bureaucratic rules.

I enjoyed this book very much.  It was, at the time it was written, a ‘first book’ and I sometimes felt that I was being given too much information too fast - the clues coming at me like a blizzard.  But that’s a minor quibble  -  the writing is assured and in places very good indeed and the plotting is clever. Not surprising it was nominated for a John Creasey Dagger Award.   Annie Raymond is an interesting character in her own right and I will be reading the next book in the series The Doll Makers which won the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award.

Like False Money is published by Robert Hale and is also available as an e-book.

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