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Point Blank, 5 October 2017
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book.
This is the second in Syd's new series about "witches, magic and Essex Girls". My review of the first, Strange Magic, is here and a piece she kindly wrote for the blog, about Essex Girls and Essex witches, is here.
Another adventure for museum owner and Benefit Fraud investigator Rosie Strange and her curator and sidekick, Sam Stone. Barely having drawn breath from the events of Strange Magic, they're contacted by erstwhile hardman Ray Boundersby who's having a spot of bother at his restaurant.
Ray's not a man you say no to - at least, not if you're fond of your kneecaps - so Rosie and Sam pack up their (well, his) spookhunting equipment, leave the Essex Witch Museum, and begin to ask questions. Of course, by the time they do this we know - from the rather gripping prologue - that there is rather more than a few ghostly knockings in play here. Murder has been committed, murder of a specially gruesome kind, and Ray's daughter Mary is in the frame...
Moore's pair of investigators - not, please, "ghostbusters" as they keep telling everyone - are well placed here, in pursuing their own enquiries, to also unravel the murder mystery - a perennial difficulty for modern-day amateur and private investigators in crime stories. And make no mistake, this is a crime story - whether or not the perpetrator turns out to be living flesh and blood. But it has other aspects too, of course and indeed one of the things I enjoyed about this book was the sharp way that the investigation bobs to and fro between criminal and psychical investigations, with information often relevant to both sides.
Another was the personalities of Moore's two main characters. I have to be honest and say they might not appeal to everyone - neither is exactly likeable: Strange is, well, a strange combination: excellent good at reading others (except for Stone) and ultra confident, but often almost clunkingly un self-aware. As a result her narration is very funny at times, but you might well not warm to her (I did!)
Stone is more enigmatic, but then we don't get his viewpoint, only Strange's perception and this is - I think - distorted by the fact that she fancies him but doesn't ever quite come out and admit to herself. Yes, I think I see where this going but I hope Moore keeps them apart for a few more books because it's more fun that way.
The story takes Strange and Stone out of Essex into London, where the restaurant "La Fleur" stands, just off Fetter lane, north of Fleet Street. (Weirdly I was walking past that corner only yesterday). The spooky goings on require them to delve into the nastier side of London't past and, indeed, present. While that was very interesting I felt the book slightly lost its distinctiveness there - a LOT of UF has been written in the vein of "London's past comes back to haunt us" and one of the things I liked about Strange Magic was that it wasn't drawing on London.
Nevertheless, Moore does an excellent job here of highlighting a real historical scandal with echoes in the present day and this also means the story is a bit more grounded than Strange Magic was so I think the visit to London pays off - I just hope our heroes are back in Essex soon. I think they will be, because alongside the main plot, Rosie's been learning more about her family background and that, also, screams MYSTERY in 36pt flashing neon gothic. So while there was perhaps less in this book concerning the Museum, and Essex, we have some pointers that more is to be learned about both.
Overall, then, a good followup to the earlier book, keeping things moving nicely, baffling the reader as to just how much of what's going is supernatural, and setting up an intriguing mystery for the future. Not all the loose ends from the crime were tied up (why the flour?) but I can live with that as long as I've got plenty of Rosie and Sam to distract me.