*I received a free ARC of this book with thanks to the author and Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources blog tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Beth Haldane, SE21’s answer to Miss Marple, worries she is losing a kindred spirit when her friend Jen, the only other single mum in the playground, suddenly remarries and moves to Camberwell.
Soon Beth has to face much more pressing fears. Has something gone horribly wrong with Jen’s marriage? What is her new husband really up to? Why is her daughter leading Beth’s son astray? And where on earth is Jen anyway?
As Beth’s friends push her to start dating again, Beth turns to Metropolitan Police DI Harry York for help. But will they solve the mystery in time, or will it turn out that in south east London, not everyone gets to live happily ever after?
Calamity in Camberwell is the third of The London Murder Mysteries series, and whilst it can be read as a standalone novel, I would personally recommend reading the series in chronological order for the full Beth Haldane experience.
I was hooked straight back into Dulwich and Beth’s penchant for curiosity of the kind that is proverbially threatening to felines. I love both the order of her small world, (realistic to parents who know the constraints of work, schoolrun, teatime, bedtime, repeat) and the way that she constantly manages to break free of those bounds and walk blithely into excitement and , less enviably, danger.
Having read the previous two books, I was wondering how the author would develop the series, as it seems highly unlikely that the same school mum, however nosy, would keep tripping over dead bodies in her routine suburban life! I needn’t have worried however, as Alice Castle clearly has that firmly in mind and has varied the pace here with more of a slow-burning domestic mystery. Far from finding an immediate corpse, Beth (and the reader) develop a slow unease about her newlywed friend, Jen, that builds into anxious tension gradually as the plot unfolds.
This follows a pattern in this series of taking a difficult theme and exploring it sensitively: previously child abuse and social media peer pressure have been covered, this time it is domestic abuse. The abuse depicted is not graphic, but may be triggering to some as the details of emotional and mental control are depicted with realism and understanding.
In line with this theme, the author explores other aspects of adult romantic relationships: we see Beth worry about whether the tempestuous encounters between herself and Detective Inspector York would be harmful to herself and her son in a romantic relationship, and this is thoughtfully contrasted with other examples: Janice, Katie, Tim and Babs, and of course, Jen and Jeff.
The balance in this novel is therefore more weighted towards Beth’s personal life than before, where her personal life acted as setting and character development but did not play a major role in the plotline. Here we see more of a 50/50 split between Beth’s concern for her friend and investigating the concerning behaviour, but also her fears about her own (lack of) relationships and her reluctance to dip her toe back in the dating pool. Along with this there are, of course, some further appearances of the Detective Inspector, who has now won MY heart completely by scoffing chips as well as loving classic crime novels!
To sum up, another great cosy mystery here from Alice Castle, with a slightly larger helping of romance than before, though still delivered in Beth’s familiar awkward and emotionally reserved style. A highly recommended series for lovers of classic and cosy crime alike.
Beth’s eyes flicked off to the right and, unbidden, a large policeman appeared foursquare in her thoughts. Ruffled dark blond hair; a direct blue gaze – usually through cross and rather narrowed eyes; a big, navy blue pea coat; and, for some reason, whenever she thought of him he was carrying a takeaway cup of coffee. But could she describe him as a great man, as Janice put it? A potential date, a possible stepfather for Ben, for heaven’s sake? When he was always so annoying? And usually very cross with her? She couldn’t remember their last exchange, but it was something on the lines of her being a total idiot, with a death wish, who wasn’t safe out alone. Hardly hearts and flowers.
– Alice Castle, Calamity in Camberwell
Calamity in Camberwell releases on Amazon today.