Guy Fraser-Sampson seems to have no limit to his range of writing styles and genres. He has completed a trilogy of books all about Mapp and Lucia (witty and bang on the style), financial books (my bro in law owns The Mess we are In and says it is excellent) and cricket (I reviewed this book, link here). Now he turns his hand to a crime novel, Death in Profile. I am expecting him to pop up on the Mills & Boon list soon under a pseudonym, if he isn't there already.
A serial killer is on the loss in Hampstead and after eighteen months no progress in identifying the murderer has been made. The detective in charge, Tom Allen, is removed from the case and replaced. He is not happy and carries on working behind the scene, trying to nobble his colleagues and getting a bit disgruntled at their lack of enthusiasm in helping him. I found him a fairly unsympathetic character.
The investigating team is fed up and running out of ideas and Simon Collinson, now in charge, calls in a profiler to see if this can help give them some insight into the mind of the killer.
Now this profiler, who seems to have a rather fragile psyche then has a breakdown over a mistake and for some reason thinks he is Lord Peter Wimsey. I have to be honest and say that I thought this was a slightly clunky plot device enabling the author to produce what is, in fact, the best part of the book, the discussion and solving of the murders by reverting to Golden Age 'teckery and thinking. These chapters were the most interesting, for me anyway and I rather revelled in them.
Perhaps I have read too many crime novels but I had no problem guessing who did the murder. I always find this rather worrying....
And now for something Completely Different. Harm by Hugh Fraser.
And blimey it is different too. No Golden Age here, no witty euphemisms or merry quips. It is gritty stuff and hard hitting. The heroine, if such she can be called, is Raina a child brought up in the slums of the fifties, with a drunken mother, a dead father, and the responsibility of looking after her two younger siblings. At the age of fourteen she is the main supporter of her family and has an old head on her shoulders. She suffers abuse and rape and then when her rapist turns his attention to her younger sister takes a kitchen knife and kills him. Her mother, normally in a drunken stupor, suddenly gets her act together and with the help of neighbours borrows an old pram, puts the body in it and at dead of night they all cart it down to the tip and dump him. I have to say the savoir faire displayed throughout this rather shook me but life was hard and the general consensus was that the dead man was a bastard who deserved everything that came to him.
We then have another story-line, this time twenty years ahead, in the seventies where Raina, now an accomplished assassin and available for hire, is in Mexico running a scam with two colleagues which will result in the killing of a Justice Minister. It all goes horribly wrong and Raina has to run for her life.
The story races along at a cracking pace flicking backwards and forwards between the two time lines. Quite frankly, I had difficulty in keeping track of what was going on and was rather overwhelmed with the number of shootings, decapitations, stabbings et al that kept popping up. Raina was adept at smashing men's heads on a dashboard while driving a car, kicking them in the balls and generally being kick ass. Not that she had much choice really.
At the bottom of all this was a woman who had had to take on a role from childhood which was forced on her by circumstances beyond her control. She loved her family and wanted to take care of them and had very little choice in the way her life turned out. For some reason I was not expecting such a graphic and disturbing book from Hugh Fraser. Why? I presume it is because I know him best in the Poirot series which seems a totally daft reason but the words 'Good Lord' a la Captain Hastings did come to my lips on several occasions.....
There could not be a bigger contrast between the style and content of these two books. Try them and see what you think and if you wish to hear how and why these Two Frasers came to write them then come along to the Felixstowe Book Festival next weekend where I will have the pleasure on chairing a discussion with Guy and Hugh. Mind you, I now hear it is sold out so you may have difficulty getting in, but come along anyway to what I think is going to be an entertaining and fun afternoon and weekend.