I was surprised to see a new release by Jo Bannister at my local library. I used to devour her books – the Brodie Farrell series in particular though I think I’ve read most of the others as well – but if you’d asked me if she was still writing today I’d have guessed not. Somehow she fell off my reading radar during the past half-dozen or so years. It only took me a few pages of DEADLY VIRTUES to realise I needed to slap myself for allowing this to happen. The book is a treat, offering the same combination of totally compelling storyline, characters to really care about and writing that exhibits its author’s obvious love of language that I’d always enjoyed about Bannister’s novels.
This one opens by introducing us to Jerome Cardy, a young, black law student living in what I assume is the fictional town of Norbold, England. Jerome is convinced he is going to die. When he ends up in the local nick after a minor traffic accident he is so convinced of his impending death that he implores his cell mate to remember him and his prediction of his own death. Problematically Jerome’s cell mate is Gideon Ash who’s only at the station to sleep off the beating he received earlier that night from some of the town’s delinquents. But even without the probable concussion Ash wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice for a reliable witness. He’s generally known around town as Rambles with Dog due to the fact that his only employment is to walk the town talking to his dog (though what fewer people know is that Patience occasionally talks back). However when Ash learns that Jerome did die later that evening he tries desperately to make sure someone in authority knows what Jerome told him. The person he manages to connect with is Hazel Best, a young policewoman with loads of potential but who is new to the town with few solid contacts. The pair of unlikely heroes join forces and uncover some nasty, nasty secrets about the town with the lowest crime rate in England.
This book made me smile. A lot. That doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and unicorns or that it’s a flawless novel. But its overall tone and gentle, intelligent humour are simply delightful. I don’t remember if I’ve had this thought before (if so, I didn’t write it down) but Bannister’s writing has the same effect on me as that of Douglas Adams or Bill Bryson: regardless of any exciting plot or character development the words might convey I am even more keen to find the linguistic treats and jokes the author has shared when carefully constructing each sentence.
It would, I think, be impossible to read this book and not want to wrap Gideon Ash in a warm blanket and look after him (and his dog) for the rest of his life. Though he might not welcome the affection. The tragedy in his past past is worn with a mixture of bewilderment and desperation that it made my heart ache. Which is the only explanation for me allowing myself one of my soppier moments in not getting annoyed at the presence of an occasionally talking dog (a device that usually makes me roll my eyes and throw the book against the nearest wall). Hazel is nicely drawn too, though I’m in agreement with this review at Book’d Out that she is more naive than any modern policewoman could realistically be. But I liked the depiction of her internal struggle to do the right thing, even though it meant going against her fellow officers and resulted in her ostracism. It’s sometimes nice to be reminded there are good people in the world.
The story is typically Bannister, involving lots of twists and turns and even though some of them were fairly obvious to this seasoned crime reader none were out of place. And the way it is revealed – the piecing together of disparate facts and half-known snippets of information – is compelling. I was thrilled to re-discover this old favourite author and highly recommend DEADLY VIRTUES to all.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I’ve discussed Jo Bannister only once before here on the blog when I highlighted one of her Brodie Farrell novels, REFLECTIONS, as part of the first Crime Fiction Alphabet
Publisher Minotaur 
Length 296 pages
Format hard cover
Book Series standalone
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