Sunday, May 26, 2013

H is for Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Today I am featuring Fell Purpose (1991) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles for my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme.

My theme for the meme this year is mysteries that feature policemen as the main character. I am looking for books that highlight the detailed investigation of a crime and feature the use of forensic science, but there is much variety in the police procedural sub-genre, and I am not a stickler for this guideline. In this case, the book fits my goal in every way.

Description from the Kirkus review site:
Zellah Wilding, just shy of 17, always did exactly as she was told. She was sweet, she was smart, she never misbehaved—or so her daddy thought until she turned up togged out like a tart, her lights turned permanently off by a pair of tights. Finding out who strangled her falls to DI Bill Slider of the Metropolitan Police, Shepherd’s Bush, West London. Slider learns from her schoolmates at St. Margaret’s that Zellah not only disobeyed her controlling father, but had recently dropped a déclassé young beau in favor of someone else she refused to name.
The detective and his crew:

In earlier books, Slider has had marital issues which resolve over time. His right-hand man and friend, Atherton, who is also a constant throughout the series, is known for his relationship troubles. Given this, you can see that this is a police procedural series that focuses not only on the crime but on the lives of it characters.

In this book, for the first time, Slider seems to finally be at peace with life. There are always issues brewing in the background (finding a place to live that he and his wife can afford AND have room for the baby, his worries about being a good father for the children of his first marriage). Life is never easy but his personal life (and Atherton's) seems to be less hectic in this book.

There is a whole team of policemen that work with Slider that we meet and get to know. In addition to Atherton, there is his supportive boss, Porson, who provides comic relief with his invented vocabulary and mixed-up sayings.There are many others: the constables, the office manager, the forensic pathologist.

My take:

I struggled with this review because I want to convey the good points of the series overall. This book is definitely not the best of the lot, but it is a fine police procedural. I discovered this author in 2006 with Orchestrated Death (1991), the first book in the series. I read the next five books that year, then read books seven through eleven over the next few years. I just finished Fell Purpose and have the next in the series, Body Line, in the TBR pile.

The investigation is always primary in all of the books, but in this series we know that the policemen have lives and families and that life is not just work for these men. The author has garnered praise for all the books and I hope that I can convince those unfamiliar with it to try at least one of these books.

There is plenty of humor in this series, but a lot of it is buried in the language  and wordplay. (In fact, a lot of it passes me by entirely.) For instance, Porson is nicknamed Syrup because he used to wear a wig, and rhyming slang for wig is syrup. Not being up on rhyming slang, I did not get this until I read the page at Harrod-Eagles' website on rhyming slang. I point this out not because it made much difference to my enjoyment of the book, but because that is one element that makes these books so unique (and that many of its fans enjoy).

Although the crime is heinous and the police department takes the investigation very seriously, this book has a lighter tone than most in the series. This is a series I would recommend reading in order. However, this one can definitely stand alone and is very entertaining.

The speech of some of the police officers and suspects is in dialect, which I appreciated as realistic, but sometimes distracting. On the other hand, the story has clearly not been re-edited for the US audience which I really appreciate. I want the novel that I read to be exactly as the author wrote it. I think "translating" terms I might not understand insults me, and sometimes changes the meaning or the mood.
 
Other tidbits:


Felony and Mayhem, who have reprinted the first in the series, have a nice biography of Harrod-Eagles on their site.  Here is an overview of Orchestrated Death (1991) at the same site which praises the book for the authors use of puns.

Harrod-Eagles has a very comprehensive (and entertaining) site about her writings. Check here for more information on the Bill Slider series. In addition to writing this relatively long police procedural series (fifteen books at this point), she has written an even longer historical series, the Morland Dynasty, comprising 34 books.

This series has a resemblance to the Lloyd and Hill series by Jill McGown. That series has less humor, but it also combines investigations by a large team of detectives and support personnel and progressive changes in the lives of the main players, with a developing relationship, this time between two detectives.

Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter H.


16 comments:

  1. Tracy, I think there's a lot going for this series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, one of a new class of authors who write mysteries that are clearly off the beaten track, where the focus is as much on the main character, the police/private detective, as it is on the storyline. You have already introduced us to many such writers. FELL PURPOSE is a nice title for a book.

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    1. Prashant, I am glad you like the idea of this type of mystery series. I had no idea where the title came from, had to look it up (Shakespeare, quote from Macbeth).

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  2. Tracy, I was so tickled to find I have Shallow Grave by her on my bookshelf! Must have picked it up at a book sale! I'm excited to get to it now! I'll look over the slang page on her website before I read it! Thanks for the heads up.

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    1. Peggy, I think you will like it. I cannot remember a (mystery) novel of hers that I haven't liked.

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  3. Tracy - An excellent review. I couldn't agree more by the way about not translating novels into American. There's no need for that and like you, I dislike it.

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    1. Margot, that is a pet peeve of mine. I bought all the Harry Potter books in UK versions for that reason (although I also like the UK covers better).

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  4. I don't know of this author but it sounds like a series I'd enjoy. I particularly like the sound of the protagonist, a family man, and the fact that you say his life is about more than just the job. If it makes you feel any better I have never heard that syrup/wig switch up before - I think it's a fairly obscure one even if you're familiar with a bit of rhyming slang!

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    1. Marie, it is a great series. Hope you try it sometime.

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  5. It is years since I read anything by Cynthia H-E, and I am astonished by the news that she wrote 34 historical novels - I had no idea. I haven't read this one, but you make a good case for the series, and this one sounds as though it might have clothes scenes for my blog! I too have never heard of the syrup/wig slang.

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    1. Moira, there are clothes scenes. I notice them more now that I am reading your blog. I am getting better at slowing down and savoring details. The historical novels actually sound interesting, if I could find a way to fit one in.

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  6. I haven't tried this author Tracy which is surprising as she seems to be pretty well known over here. One to add to my list I think!

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    1. Sarah, Harrod-Eagles is definitely worth a try. Will be interested to see what you think, if you do get a chance.

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  7. New author for me TracyK, thanks - if this is not the right place to start, which would you recommend instead?

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    1. Sergio, best place to start is with Orchestrated Death, the first one. Although the author does say that she wrote that one as a stand-alone, so it is different from the rest. And if not with that one, one of the first four. Death Watch, Necrochip, Dead End.

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  8. Interesting post, but to be honest my TBR is stacked at the minute, so I will pass albeit a little reluctantly.

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    1. Col, I definitely understand. I don't know why I don't have more resistance to new books, new authors. I have tons of unread, untried authors right here at home.

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