I am generally not a fan of Murder/Mysteries. However, ‘Murder Now & Then’ with its slight historical theme, and being based around a rural community drew me in.
The story weaves together two murders which are separated by 100 years. The first murder in 1919 remains unsolved; will this be the case with the new murder? Are these two murders somehow connected?
The author has actually taken the 1919 murder from facts reported in ‘The Bedfordshire Times Newspaper’ (although the original names were replaced), to produce this page-turning work of fiction.
On May 9th 2019, in our not too distant future the second murder occurs. Bob Thomas of Pear Tree Farm is the victim and his wife Joanna, being found with the body, has been accused and arrested.
Inspector Norton of the local constabulary believes it an open & shut case, being close to retirement he wants this case to be tied up neatly before he leaves. However, there is no murder weapon and there appears to be no motive. Other intuitive police personnel believe there is more to the murder than meets the eye, therefore an intense, investigation gets underway.
No stone is left unturned; door to door interviews are carried out. Suspects are contacted from far and wide Bedfordshire to Jersey to Canada, these latter possibly with some distant family connection to the murdered girl Lucy of 1919.
The author talks very believably about the technologies of this not too distant future. Technologies not only used by the police but by family & inquisitive people wanting to know more about the 100yr old unsolved murder. This technology is called ‘Futurenet’, it has replaced our regular internet. This is where for me the story goes into a little bit of freaky SciFi, which I have to admit did sit realistically well within the text. ‘Big Brother’ (or someone else) is most certainly watching.
Characters in this novel are numerous but the author weaves them into the mystery and intrigue surprisingly well. Each person is described in detail, if not in their actual looks then in their personalities. The author makes you love, hate or become very suspicious of each and every character. The tale twists & turns, giving you cause to change your mind on someone you thought good, but then you may think is actually bad.
As the reader, we come to know the main suspect held in custody. The accused Joanna Thomas is the loving supportive wife of the most recent murder victim Robert Thomas. The pair appears to be pillars of the community, but of course the police have to investigate and discover this fact for themselves.
There is mention of a milk woman Fiona, so beautiful she could ‘…pose for Hello magazine.’ She collects the milk from the farm several days each week often smiling and giving a little friendly greeting to Bob, was there more to it than meets the eye? Did Fiona come back and murder Bob?
Paul Thomas is the son of Joanna & Bob. He believes his father to be living in the dark ages when it comes to farming. It is true, Bob dislikes change but Paul was able to encourage him to move to a new technology involving computers. This innovative technology allows the cows themselves to choose when they want to be milked. Bob sees this as a ‘trendy hobby’ so he allows his organic herd of Jersey cows to be milked by robotics. However, his regular Friesians are still milked in the old fashioned parlour. Paul & his dad often argue over this and Bob knows that Paul does not wish to take over the farm in his place. Bob has even got to wondering if the cowman John Cookham a very loyal and capable farmhand, might just be the one to take over in some way.
A very prominent character of the story is the housekeeper for Pear Tree Farm and several other properties around the village, Helen Carter; she cycles between jobs on her trusty little bicycle. Recently Helen lost her 21yr old daughter Kirsty to leukaemia, at first I sympathised with this woman but there was something I couldn’t quite put my finger upon. Helen is at times secretive, and although people of the village speculated, no one ever knew the identity of Kirsty’s father. She tries to get her life back into some kind of routine and even gets involved in raising money for leukaemia, but she isn’t ready for that, not quite yet.
“A chance coincidence though had brought another purpose to her otherwise fruitless life, when she was placing flowers at her daughter’s grave. She had noticed a gravestone, a cross as it happened, of a young girl who had died at the same age as her daughter, at 21 years, but what was surprising was that the date of her death was nearly 100 years ago. Feeling an affinity to the girl, whose name was Lucille Vardon, Helen decided to make it her quest to try to solve the mystery of her early death. Not having the mega speed access to the Futurnet, she frequently took herself off to the records office in Bedford” (Snippet from the book)
It was natural progression that leads Helen to attend an IT course, and with the help of some local lads she sets up a website to learn more about the 100yr old murder.
Anna Beret from Jersey in the Channel Islands is another of the books main characters; she is studying Ornithology at Cambridge.
“It had all begun when her aunt died a year ago and in her will she had left Anna a box of books. Not just any books mind, they were her great-great-grandfather’s collection and also his travel log – a painstakingly accurate record of birds he had witnessed first-hand in his travels, all beautifully hand drawn and labelled with care…” (Snippet from the book)
Along with the books there were also scrolls of aged letters written between 1914 & 1918 from Lucille Vardon. The letters had been addressed to Anna’s great-great-grandmother who is believed to have been Lucy’s cousin. Anna’s interest is stirred and she wishes to do a little detective work of her own, to discover why they stopped so abruptly in May 1919. On her return to the mainland Anna visits Bedfordshire staying in a friendly little B & B. Often borrowing the landlady’s bicycle she takes herself into the countryside with her trusty binoculars for a little twitching (bird watching). Anna is mentioned lots in the story she even becomes a suspect and the police chase after her tracking her down in Cambridge then following her over to Jersey. Is she the murderer, a revenge killing for that of her very distant relative Lucy?
Even Peter Thomas & his wife, the parents of Bob are questioned. Peter does not come across as a very amiable man; some of his actions towards Joanna are rather abhorrent. I disliked him from the start.
In Part 3 new characters are introduced; James Bouchard is in Canada his mother Elizabeth has been nagging him to do some research into the family’s history. She has done a great deal herself but has found the latest Futurenet technology rather frightening. James becomes hooked and begins to delve into the family’s dark secret which seems to be somehow linked with Lucille Vardon.
Keith Regmund is also drawn into research after his 13yr old son Toby has a piece of holiday homework, an English essay about his family history. Being an army man Keith turns the project into a military operation. Toby learns about his heritage, how his ancestors were involved in the North Africa Conflict and the Normandy Day Landings. Toby is excited by all this and he rushes off to set about doing further research and getting it down on paper. Meanwhile Keith,
“…was relieved that his son hand not delved further into the past and found the family’s brush with scandal in World War One when his great grandfather had been accused of murder.” (Snippet from the book)
Finally, the main investigating team consist of DC Cathy Peterson and DS Tony Brown, both these characters are very easy to relate too. Cathy especially is a very warm, caring, sympathetic policewoman. Being very intuitive she in no way believes that Joanna could have killed her husband. All are trained to watch for facial expressions and body language, and Joanna’s body does not read like a guilty persons. The pair goes above and beyond their duty, to discover the true murderer. Here also we have a little love interest between Tony & Cathy however, they are both married to the force and are wary of beginning a full blown relationship.
All in all the story runs smoothly, I would have much preferred to read a printed copy as I was personally wishing to flick back and forth between the pages to check something out. The story is intriguing and therefore a real page turner, you always want to know where the story will go next, who will fall under the suspicions of the police?
The advanced technologies are not so far in the future as to be unbelievable. The police technology of just pressing a discreet little button, and taping a suspect’s remark without them noticing, is something that could well be introduced into our own world very soon.
For the romantics amongst you there are also a couple of little sexual encounters, for me they were not necessary. I believe there is enough going on in the story without it. However, that said the scenes are tastefully written and short enough to be passed by almost in the blink of an eye.
One other negative point for me and that was, I felt bereft of any conclusions regarding some of the characters, particularly those who attended ‘The Gathering’ (a little memorial to Lucille Vardon).
As I said previously a real page turner, a book I feel would appeal to many ages’ especially younger readers wanting to perhaps try a mystery for the first time.