I’m not a devotee of detective fiction. The kind where the author has a police or amateur sleuth who solves crimes oh so cleverly. Especially if the crime is committed in some idyllic or country house situation as though the whole thing were a deeply disturbing reversal of the natural order. But, at a satisfying 440 pages, A Capital Crime isn’t one of your run of the mill Midsomer Murders or Morse concoctions. This one mirrors, almost exactly, the Evans/Christie cases in 1950s Britain and the police content is relevant, carefully researched and entertaining.
It’s a challenge to take a real and notorious crime and give it new life as riveting fiction; one that Laura Wilson takes on and meets with great skill. Real crime, unlike the made-up kind I’ve referred to, is messy, generally unglamorous with unpleasant characters and, often, inept and unimaginative police work.Wilson doesn’t shrink from tackling any of this and her portrayal of the characters representing Evans and Christie, as well as her invented CID man, Stratton, is so well done you connect with the squalor, meanness and drabness of life in immediately post-war London, illuminated only by the cheerful ‘grin and bear it’ attitudes of those who have survived a truly dreadful war – a way of dealing with difficulties to which the majority of the British no longer have recourse and which the writer herself can never have known personally.
There’s a parallel narrative, which although equally well written, I found distracting and introduces a note of ‘make- believe’ into what is otherwise a solidly feet on the ground story. The main tale held my attention throughout, even though I knew from the start where it would lead and the author’s minor departures from the actual facts of the real events are understandable and acceptable.
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