Sunday, July 21, 2013

P is for Plots and Errors by Jill McGown

Today, for the Crime Fiction Alphabet, I feature Plots and Errors (1999), a book by Jill McGown.  This book is the tenth in a series of thirteen books set primarily in a fictional town in the UK called Stansfield.

Jill McGown (1947 - 2007) is one of my favorite authors. She was born in Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland, but by the age of 10 had moved to a town in Britain, Corby, where she lived the rest of her life. She is best known for the British police procedurals starring Chief Inspector Lloyd and Sergeant Judy Hill, but she also wrote five stand-alone mysteries.

I discovered the Lloyd and Hill mysteries in 2007, after McGown had died. I read the first book in the series, The Perfect Match, and was very impressed. It was different, and I always like mysteries that take a different approach. Yet, I was not sure whether to continue the series, because it was not the kind of book that could be repeated. I tried the second book in the series and liked it too. Within four months, I had read all thirteen books in the series. I won't say I loved every book in the series, but all are good mysteries, and at least 10 of the 13 are personal favorites of mine. One of the characteristics of the series is that the books do not follow a formula; Jill McGown does not write the same book over and over. Lloyd and Hill, and their ongoing relationship, are the mainstays of the series, but each book can take a different approach to telling the story.

The unique aspect to Plots and Errors is that the structure is like a play and it is interspersed with quotes from Hamlet. There is a prologue, five acts, and an epilogue. There is even a list of the Dramatis Personae.

The Prologue sets the stage, when the murders are discovered. Act I goes back in time a few weeks, and is from the point of view of the Esterbrooks, the family most affected by these murders. Act II is from the point of view of the private investigators who are involved. Act III is The Plot; Act IV is The Murders. Act V is The Investigation, taking us back to Lloyd and Hill and their team. The Epilogue wraps it up.

You can see that the plot gets complex and hops around in time. Although I could not find many reviews of this book online, the author's website notes that some readers were not happy with the complexity and the approach, and I noted this in some comments at Goodreads also. At this page on the author's site, McGown discussed why she wrote the story.

The character development is very good. Lloyd and Hill are more in the background in this story than in most of the series (as I remember it), but I think that the way their backstory is introduced lets you know what kind of people and detectives they are. The other policemen involved are fleshed out. The members of the Esterbrook clan are very well developed as characters in this story. They are mostly not likable people, but interesting nevertheless. And there are plenty of surprises as the story unfolds.

Comments on Plots and Errors in this tribute to Jill McGown at Aunt Agatha's:
To me this is her best novel because it combines her genius with characters and a tightly wound plot that is one of the best I've ever read. And of course, the detective portion of the novel, Lloyd and Hill's investigation, is the thread of decency tying it all together. The modern detective novel makes us think, but it also ties up the loose ends and implies that bad deeds are righted, or at least avenged, in the civilized manner of the legal system.
I reread this book in preparation for writing this post, and I did not remember who had perpetrated the crimes. At times I thought the ending was obvious, but I was wrong. The ending was not what I expected, but it did not disappoint me. I enjoyed reading it just as much the second time around, and maybe even more this time.

The series is best read in order, because the Lloyd / Hill relationship changes over time, but the author has stated (in this post at Mystery*File which includes some excerpts from an interview) that each book is written to stand alone and contains enough backstory to explain the relationships where needed.


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise.  Please visit this post to check out other entries for this letter.

24 comments:

  1. I had no idea this author had passed away. Her work was mentioned to me several times but I'd never followed up. This review makes me want to read this book and while I do appreciate the reading advice, I probably won't take it since I tend to want to skip around.*g* I've never been a fan of reading in order and it's good to know that the books can provide the needed backstory to start here if I want but I will keep your advice in mind whenever I decide to try this series. So much on my plate already that I can't say when that day will be. Thanks Tracy.

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    1. Keishon, I know what you mean about too much on your plate to read. I have the same problem with authors I read about and want to try. I think I am going to have to fact reality and start reading out of order in series or I will never get to sample all the authors I want to read.

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  2. Tracy - What a great choice of P! This is a series I'd heard a lot about but *embarrassed* not yet tried. It has always struck me as one of those innovative series though that I should get acquainted with, so thanks for the kick in the pants to read it.

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    1. Margot, I think you would like the series. Based on her website, the author seemed like a very nice person.

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  3. Tracy, thanks for writing about Jill McGown and reviewing her book. It's innovative style, structured like a play, is appealing and I wouldn't mind giving it a try.

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    1. Prashant, if you try it, I think you would like it. I think McGown really liked writing stand-alone books, but the series was more successful. So she varied her approach within the series. Just my opinion of course, based on what I have read about her.

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  4. Will definitely give this author a try! Just finished L.R. Wright's The Suspect on your recommendation and loved it!

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    1. Peggy, I am so glad you liked The Suspect. Such an interesting book. This author is good in a similar way, with good character and plot development.

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  5. I didn't know Jill McGown was dead. I dipped in and out of her series (and therefore say that that is perfectly possibly, they do standalone sufficiently to do that) and this one was a particular favourite. I found it very unlike her other books, or anyone else's for that matter - a really unusual read that I enjoyed enormously. I'm thinking I should read it again, inspired by you...

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    1. Moira, this one was exceptionally good. I did not even remember it that well. I am planning to reread more of the series. I think the first one is the only one I remember how it ends... sort of.

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  6. The British authors have a distinct way of writing about the mystery. :)

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    1. Scott, I love British mysteries, and they usually are quite different than those by US writers.

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  7. i haven;t read this series, Tracy, but as Keishon says, your review makes me want to read this book.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. This author's works are definitely worth trying.

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  8. Oooh, another new author for me - sounds great TracyK - now that I am finally starting to get my belongings back out of storage again I definitely see some McGown being added to the TBR I am re-building - thanks very much and I'll make sure to start at the beginning with PERFECT MATCH, as you suggest.

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    1. Sergio, I hope you like McGown's books. I think she will be worth your time and shelf space.

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  9. TracyK.: Thanks for a fine review. I regret I had not heard of Jill McGown until reading this post. She sounds so clever in the structure and plotting of the book.

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    1. Thank you, Bill. She deserves to be better known.

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  10. Tracy, a bit late to the chat - sorry! Another one for the maybe pile I reckon! I hadn't heard of the lady, but I'm intrigued by your excellent post. Thanks,

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    1. Col, should you try one of her books one day, I will be interested to see what you think of it. I was thinking her books might not be edgy enough for you, but you do read other authors that have similarities.

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    2. Tracy.......grrrrr.... just got myself a second hand copy of this from E-bay, thanks, I think!

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    3. Col, either way, whether you like the book or not, it will add to your list of female authors read. I have found that I am not reading that many female authors either, and plan to have a month where I read only female authors... someday.

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  11. I like authors who like to experiment rather than use a formula. I like complex plots too. I will look for this series. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Valli, you should definitely give this author a try, in that case.

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