Book Review: Crime Fiction for Beginners – Gervase Shorter

Crime Fiction for Beginners
About Crime Fiction for Beginners (2011)
Crime Fiction for Beginners

The murder investigation Detective Inspector Harriet Ware is heading takes her into an unsuspected world where publishers wearily fend off a spate of unwanted manuscripts. Her suspects include would-be authors who live as much in the plots they are weaving as in the mundane world they actually inhabit. ‘Crime Fiction for Beginners’ is five novels in one with an unexpected twist at the end.

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Review: Crime Fiction for Beginners

Don’t be fooled by that title. This isn’t a step by step guide on how to write crime fiction but a murder mystery. Shorter’s novel offers one murder case that is a little complex and the detectives investigating the crime are certainly not short of suspects.

The premise to the novel is the murder of Laurence Barlow, the owner of a publishing house, who has been found dead in an alley. Detectives Harriet Ware and James Rose are on the case but there is a problem. Laurence Barlow was not a popular man, with his wife less than distraught by his death while two of Barlow’s colleagues despised him and a former secretary filed a sexual harassment case against him. The list of suspects extends further with the knowledge that Laurence Barlow left many aspiring authors devastating by cruelly rejecting their manuscripts and some turned nasty and threatening in response.

The novel opens with Barlow’s body being identified by his colleague Frank Slater. Slowly a picture of Barlow begins to build. Inheriting the publishing firm through marriage to his wife Violet, Barlow is depicted as somewhat ferocious in his business dealings, gathering enemies and finding few friends along the way. He’s also something of a womaniser and secretaries at the publishing house have to be on their guard around him. Harriet finds that many suspects would have had motives for killing Barlow but how will she narrow down the list and find the culprit?

The investigation is interposed with accounts of a handful of writers, offering insight into their daily lives, the books they’re working on and extracts from their novels. One is writing a sci-fi piece while another is working on a novel Jane Austen would have been proud of. The writers hear of Barlow’s death and we begin to wonder if any of them know who is responsible or whether they were involved themselves. With the many perspectives being thrown at the reader early on it’s easy to lose track initially but you soon get used to it. The question is will the killer be brought to justice for the murder of Laurence Barlow?

I thought Crime Fiction for Beginners was an effective thriller and the murder mystery was always compelling throughout. As interesting as the extracts from the aspiring authors were I felt they broke the narrative’s flow a little and could have been condensed somewhat. There is also something of a twist at the end of the novel which some readers will see coming but others will be pleasantly surprised I feel.

Crime Fiction for Beginners is a decent murder mystery with the two detectives having a difficult time unravelling the case such is the unpopularity of Laurence Barlow. Less of the extracts from authors would have interrupted the narrative flow less but that aside this is certainly worth considering if you enjoy crime fiction.

Verdict: 3/5

(Book source: reviewer received a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review)

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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