REVIEW: A DEVON NIGHT’S DEATH by Stephanie Austin, published by Allison and Busby

ISBN: 978 0 7490 2892 3

This is one of those books that arrived without my expecting it. 

Usually, books I don’t expect have one thing in common – they aren’t the sort of books I’d ever think of buying. I am, after all, a crime writer. 

There is a strange thing about publicists in publishing. There appears to be a belief that anyone who has ever read anything will automatically love whatever it is that they have. They throw books at reviewers with gay abandon, flinging rose petals in the path of their authors, no doubt, while letting them know that their wonderful purple prose will soon receive a heartfelt accolade from another author. Thus it is that I received LOVE IN COLOUR, which is a series of reimagined mythical tales from around the world, as the cover proudly declares – or as Candice Carty-Williams says “So rarely is love expressed this richly, this vividly…” 

Why the hell send that to me? Is there a crime of any sort, let alone a murder?

However, every now and again there is something that is actually suitable. I’ve recently reviewed KJ Maitlands TRAITOR IN THE ICE (which is superb), and I have two superb books by the brilliant Tony King to finish, plus a Erin Young’s first foray into crime to occupy me. And then I have twenty three titles from publishers, plus two books about Russia and Putin’s kleptocracy to read (PUTIN’S PEOPLE by Catherine Belton and KLEPTOPIA by Tom Burgis), and HOW TO STAY SMART IN A SMART WORLD by Gerd Gigerenzer, which I’m really looking forward to, and THE ANGLO-SAXONS by Marc Morris, which has been waiting far too long to be reviewed.

Which is a long way of saying, that I really appreciate these books that are suitable for me as a reviewer.

Why did I receive A DEVON NIGHT’S DEATH? Well, because it has several aspects that a sensible editor and publicist thought made me a suitable reviewer. You see, someone here thought about things. How did they think? First, they thought about asking the author who she thought would be a suitable reviewer – and she thought of me (thanks, Stephanie). I don’t know Stephanie – I have never met her to my knowledge, but I will do before long. 

What else made it a book for me to read? The fact that it’s set in Devon. That helps. I live here, after all. And yes, it’s a book involving death – which is meat and potatoes to me (except it’s not, because I’ve had to curtail the spuds since my diagnosis of diabetes earlier this year, dammit). 

So, having already bored you with four hundred and fifty words, what is the book about?

The main character is a reluctant antique shop owner and accidental amateur sleuth called Juno Browne (don’t forget the “e”). She has an antique shop in Ashburton (I like Ashburton – an old Stannary town on Dartmoor which still has a school building created by Bishop Stapeldon in the early 1300s), but she has a problem. It is not a great money-maker, and she has spare rooms to rent out. When one day a mild and gentlemanly book binder and paper-marbler (would that be the correct term?) offers to rent the room so he can free up space in his house, she’s delighted. He is an interesting character, and she develops a keen interest in him when she learns that he was the victim of a hit and run attack the previous year, although why a mild and inoffensive book dealer should be attacked … well, it doesn’t seem likely.

And then one evening Juno accidentally disturbs intruders on her boyfriend’s land, and although no one is hurt, only a very short while later she learns that one of the intruders died, falling to his death from the old viaduct over Tavistock. She has to wonder whether that was accidental or suicide – or possibly murder? And then there are more break-ins and a grisly murder, all mingled with gambling, alcoholism and drugs.

I never knew Ashburton could be this exciting!

This is the sixth (I think) in this series, and I found it brilliant. It is not a modern style of glitzy murder story – by which I mean there are not ludicrous scenes of gross and unnecessary violence. This is much more of a slightly hard-edged cosy crime novel. Think Miss Marple with a little more of an edge. 

The locations are ideal. The town of Ashburton is a little larger than Mary Mead, but that adds to the cast of characters, and since it’s a small town still, and set in the middle of rolling countryside, there is no distraction as you’d find in a large city. It feels cosy, and the writing suits the town perfectly. 

I have mentioned characters – Stephanie has developed a superb cast in this story. There are Ricky and Morris, the gay couple who work in the theatre, and who are trying to put on a play with the “help” of a London director, Gabriel. All are brilliantly portrayed, as are Juno’s friends in her shop, Sophie and Pat. In fact all the characters are wonderfully set down on paper – in a few pages I felt completely involved with all of them, and knew each individually. 

Stephanie has a story here that is superb – the plot is excellent, with some twists I hadn’t expected, with a basic theme which was entirely new to me, with a criminal endeavour that had me grinning with delight. In short, it was superb, and a very bad distraction from my editor’s notes, which I was supposed to be working on. 

So, this one gets a big thumbs-up from me. Highly recommended for those who enjoy cosy crime, who like Devon and Dartmoor, and who want a satisfying tale without the violence of Cathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell. This is a story that depends only on good writing and brilliant characters and plot – and it works!

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