Welcomes to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for Chasing Hares by Christina James!
Here’s a little info about the book:
Gordon Bemrose, a shady local businessman who lives in a large house on an island in the River Welland, decides he can make easy money from the property by using it for Country House murder weekends. For the first, introductory, weekend he recruits ten people from very different backgrounds: Ava and Reggie Dack and Lizzie and Jackson Fox, two self-made couples from Essex; Sonia and Richard Renwick, respectively a successful beautician and her husband, who is a failed writer; Dora Westerman, a lady of indeterminate age and obviously very slender means; Amelia Baker, an English literature student; and Margarett and Colin Franklin, a mixed-race couple of modest origins whom all the others look down upon. Reluctantly assisting with the festivities are Patti Gardner, Gordon s niece, who has been roped in to speak about the work of a SOCO, and Anton Greenweal, his nephew, who has achieved instant fame on a TV reality show and will be the lead actor in a short play to be performed during the weekend. The play is central to Gordon s plans: he intends it to be based on a popular farce, but with a macabre twist as its finale.
Events take an unexpected turn when a real murder takes place; and DI Yates, investigating, discovers that each of the guests had an ulterior motive for participating in the crime weekend. Everyone on the island becomes a suspect, including Patti, his former girlfriend. Meanwhile, an epidemic of hare coursing is sweeping the county. This illegal and cruel sport is pursued by cynical gamblers who bet high stakes on whose dog will catch the hare. On her way back to Spalding police station from a meeting in Bourne, DS Juliet Armstrong discovers a badly-wounded Saluki that has been abandoned by hare coursers and is determined to bring them to justice.
The eighth DI Yates novel is a modern take on the country house murder story; it also explores the crime of hare coursing, which is currently top of the agenda for police forces in Lincolnshire.
And about author Christina James:
Christina James is the author of a crime thriller series set in the Fenlands of South Lincolnshire. Her first crime novel, In the Family, finds Detective Inspector Yates investigating a cold case that leads deep into the secrets of a dysfunctional family. Almost Love, the second of the series, published in June 2013, concerns the mysterious disappearance of a veteran archaeologist. Sausage Hall, published in November 2014, deals with the exploitation of women in both Victorian England and the present day. Christina James is the pseudonym of an established non-fiction writer.
And here’s Paul Burke’s review of Chasing Hares:
Chasing Hares is a pure joy to read and I savoured every page. I realise I have been missing out because this is the eighth DI Yates book and yet this is the first time I have ventured into the south Lincolnshire Fens – shame on me! James’ love of crime fiction shines out in this engrossing novel, it has a lot of charm, crime aficionados whatever your sub-genre take note. Charm may seem like a strange word to use about a murder mystery but I was captivated by the beautifully vivid and evocative descriptions of the landscape and the interplay between the slightly oddball cast of characters. So much so that I think I would have been happy with this novel even if murder didn’t so rudely interrupt proceedings. Part Christiesque country house drama, part police procedural, this tale of rural crime is a rich pleasure. James’ style is traditional and refreshingly original; understated, quietly serious and yet playful, this is consummate storytelling.
The best kind of crime novels are often love poems to the place they portray, Chasing Hares is an ode to the fens of south Lincolnshire. A novel that manages to make the reader feel at home in the fresh air and beautiful countryside even when nefarious doings are afoot. I’m used to gritty city thrillers or seeing the countryside weaponized by the dark intent of the writer (either claustrophobic/oppressive or vast and overwhelming), but here it’s just naturally there, it is what it is – rural and relaxing. This contrast between setting and events is delicious.
It all begins with hare coursing. DS Juliet Armstrong is returning to the station in Spalding via Deeping St. Nicholas, a ribbon town of 2,000 people stretching for nearly seven miles. Juliet is responding to a call from Mrs Lovell about hare coursing in a nearby field. DI Tim Yates is protective of Juliet following the attack she suffered at the hands of Susie Fovargue, a female serial killer, last year, she is still undergoing surgery for the scar on her face. So Juliet is under strict instructions to call in if there is anything going on. The sparse population and the wide open spaces of the south Lincolnshire Fens are ideal for the hare coursers:
“The sport was despicable, cruel and pointless… The real motivation was greed: illicit prize money of several thousand pounds might be offered, together with valuable trophies of the kind presented at greyhound tracks. Champion dogs could also be sold for more thousands or put out to stud for large fees.”
Juliet sensed Mrs Lovell was right but there was nothing going on when she arrived. An eerie noise drew Juliet to a ditch at one end of the field where she saw the hare – what was left of it. The whining sound came from a dog tied to a post in the ditch, one of it’s front legs was broken, obviously abandoned by the coursers. Juliet found a vet to take a look at the dog, the man recommended putting it down but Juliet had already become attached. She promised to find a home for the three legged dog if the vet would amputate the destroyed limb. She would have to talk to her boyfriend, Jake, about that.
Gordon Bemrose renamed his house on his own personal island, Holyrood, that sounded about right, classy. The island on the river Welland was connected to the bank by a bridge with imposing wrought iron gates. The house itself was built between the wars and there are four cottages too. Bemrose had eventually bought out the elderly residents of those properties although that had taken nearly ten years. His big plan, admittedly nothing new, was a crime mystery weekend. Ten guests, each we learn with their own stories, have booked up (at a very reasonable rate given this was to be the inaugural event). Benmore had high hopes. His nephew Anton Greenweal, a TV celebrity since his appearance on a reality TV show, and his partner Percy Forsyth-Jones, actor, have been roped in as players (Anton owes his uncle a lot of money). Benmore had a similar hold over his niece, Isobel Lawrence; she and the housekeeper will handle most of the guests needs for the weekend. Bemrose had made inquires about professional actors, the cost was phenomenal so the local am-dram led by Montague Sykes have been drafted in to make up the cast. Rehearsals and preparations got under way as, annoyingly, some guests showed up early, but Bemrose was politeness itself. Mrs Dack called to cancel for her husband and Mr Fox, both called away on business. However, she and Mrs Fox would still come, sharing one cottage, if the price could be adjusted of course. Amelia Baker, a criminology student was due to share with the only other solo guest, Dora Westerman.
Amelia was dropped off by her tutor, Dr. Victor le Grange, who hung around for a while although he wasn’t booked in for the festivities. The actors, hosts and the guests begin settling in: welcome drinks, rehearsals, last minute preparations all underway. Yet an air of disquiet, an animosity, seemed to persist despite the general mood of bonhomie. As the motley crew assemble for the main event things begin to go awry; Bemrose goes missing, he is attacked, so is le Grange and there’s a suspicion of food poisoning (dodgy prosecco?) Of course, it isn’t long before the game becomes real. DI Tim Yates and his team have a murder inquiry on their hands and Juliet really wants to get the hare coursing gang.
James creates a fascinating cast of oddball characters at Holyrood house that really draw the reader into the mystery; red herrings, clues, suspects abound. As for Tim Yates, Juliet Armstrong and the other detectives/officers, whom as I’ve said I’ve never met before, I was happy to spend time in their company, learning about their lives and loves. The setting is pitch perfect and the mystery itself, I don’t want to say cosy crime but it is kind of light, was fun. Bravo Christine James.
Paul Burke 5/4
Chasing Hares by Christina James
Salt 9781784631895 pbk Nov 2019