For this week’s contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme I’m discussing Anthea Fraser’s Jigsaw. The book is the second in Fraser’s Rona Parish series and is one of those deceptively gentle English village murder mysteries that make you wonder if the mean streets of big cities aren’t safer than small towns after all.
Rona Parish is a biographer and journalist who, as the book opens, is still recovering from the dramatic events described in the first book in the series (in which the subject of her biography-in-progress turned out to be a murderer). She’s finally decided on her next project which is to be a series of articles about the nearby town of Buckford which is due to celebrate its eight-hundredth anniversary. She makes arrangements to stay in the town several nights each week while conducting her research into the schools, churches and oddities of the town but it isn’t ancient history that keeps monopolising her attention. Several years previously a young child in the town was killed by a drunk driver, Barry Pollard, who subsequently received a very lenient jail sentence. A few days after Pollard’s release from prison he was killed and the child’s father, Alan Spencer, was found guilty of his murder. Spencer’s wife Beth is desperate to prove her husband innocent and contacts Rona Parish to enlist her help.
One of the things I like most about Jigsaw is that it depicts an entire social life for the protagonist. She has a twin sister, Lindsay, parents whose relationship is a bit rocky, a husband who she loves but sometimes argues with and several friends whom she sees regularly. I think it’s quite rare for central characters in crime fiction to have much of a life beyond the immediate crime they are investigating whereas in this story not everyone in Rona’s life is drawn into the middle of a crime spree which I found refreshing.
Also, even though the story features an amateur sleuth it is entirely believable. The facts and speculation that Rona picks up while she is researching Buckford’s history are revealed quite naturally, especially as she has the good journalist’s capacity for listening. In fact she comes across as the kind of character you can imagine sharing secrets with as she’s warm and non-judgmental.
I’ve never read anything else by Fraser but there are five other books in this series (with the sixth, Unfinished Portrait, due for publication in 2010), 16 books in what looks to be a police procedural series featuring DCI David Webb with the Shillingham Police and 20 standalone novels for me to sink my teeth into.
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My previous entries in the Crime Fiction Alphabet are