In the Family by Christina James is a book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while as its author is one of my twitter friends and a great supporter of this blog. I finally got around to buying the book this month and it was great to read a story set firmly in the detective fiction tradition but also with a slightly unusual setting. I’m a big fan of rural crime novels, not least because, as anyone who has ever lived in the countryside knows, there is a sinister side to any rustic idyll. In the Family exploits the Lincolnshire setting to full effect.
Dorothy Atkins was convicted of the murder of her mother-in-law, Doris, over thirty years earlier. When the remains of a woman’s body is discovered by road workers, the case is reopened, led by Detective Inspector Tim Yates. Both Dorothy’s former husband Ronald and their son, Hedley, are unwilling to discuss the tragedy and the team are perplexed by the disappearance of Dorothy’s daughter Bryony Atkins. Meanwhile Hedley has a new man in his life, Peter Prance, whose motives for moving in with him are unclear. Is he simply an upper-class scrounger or is it something more sinister?
The first thing you notice about the book is how well written it is. It has the feel of literary fiction; there is a calm and reflective quality to the prose which makes interesting reading. The narrative moves between the third person detailing the police investigation and Hedley’s first person, and clearly biased, observations. Both worked well. I slightly preferred the Hedley narrative, mainly because the set-up is clearly odd and it made entertaining reading. The police investigation is also well described and there is plenty of mileage in the character of DI Tim Yates and his slightly adoring assistant, Juliet Armstrong.
The clue to the essence of this book is in the title. It’s about the claustrophobia of families and the secrets contained within them. The book, for me, also had a strong ‘provincial’ feel. And I mean this in the best sense of the word. It was a book not about the metropolis but the lives of ordinary (or perhaps not) people in everyday surroundings. And it was nice to read something with such a strong sense of place.
The book is published by Salt, a small but discerning publisher and I think this book is an asset to its list. I hope book two in the series, which is out in June, is as good as this one.