Author: Jan Edwards
Expected Publication in Paperback ~ 4th April by Penkhull Press
Category: Historical Fiction, Cosy Mystery, Book Review
Bunch Courtney’s hopes for a quiet market-day lunch with her sister are shattered when a Dutch refugee dies a horribly painful death before their eyes. A few days later Bunch receives a letter from her old friend Cecile saying that her father, Professor Benoir, has been murdered in an eerily similar fashion. Two deaths by poisoning in a single week. Co-incidence? Bunch does not believe that any more than Chief Inspector William Wright.
In Her Defence is set in Sussex in 1940 as the German army advances through Europe. Bunch (Rose) Courtney’s home, Perringham House, has been requisitioned by the MoD and Bunch is living with her grandmother in the Dower House while running the family estate.
Bunch had made her purchase of two Jersey heifers at auction on a busy market day. She and her recently widowed sister, Dodo (Daphne) were lunching at the local pub, along with Dodo’s father-in-law. Bunch noticed that a young woman sat alone at the bar, looking unwell, was attracting attention from the other patrons. Suddenly the woman fell to the floor writhing in agony. Panic broke out and Bunch, who is a trained nurse, tried to help but to no avail.
Several days later Bunch received a letter from an old school friend, Cecile Benoir, asking to meet her in the village. Cecile and her father left Berlin via France for England due to the war and now, after his untimely death, she is in need of a job and somewhere to live.
The woman seated in the May sunshine was slim, elegant, showing not a hint of the slightly gauche sixteen-year old Bunch recalled from school. Had the outfit she wore been less faded, this woman would have been the height of Paris chic. Her trademark mass of dark hair was tamed beneath a saucer hat, tendrils escaping to flutter around her face in a frame of tiny ringlets. Cecile Benoir was twining one of those coils around her forefinger, her expression pensive as she gazed at an ivy-covered wall.
Two suspected poisonings so close together are too much of a coincidence for Bunch. Although this is the second book in the series (I haven’t read Winter Downs, the first) there are enough back references to get a sense of the characters and know that Bunch and Chief Inspector William Wright are meeting again in less than auspicious circumstances. I get the feeling each of them would like to take their acquaintance a little further—but perhaps are held back because of the political and economic climate.
The story is told from Bunch’s perspective and it’s clear her view of the world is limited and sometimes tested due to her gender and social position. Jan Edwards conveys the time and place and the atmosphere of the war years very well. The characters are realistic, doing the best they can under the circumstances with the inclusion of rationing, land girls and the military presence. Not to mention the negative attitude towards anyone seen as a foreigner. The uncertainty and difficulty in adjusting to the changes in their way of life has affected everyone.
Bunch is a resourceful, likeable and unconventional protagonist, kind but very well able to stand her ground, and determined to find out whatever information she can regarding the deaths.
An enjoyable cosy murder mystery reminiscent of vintage classic crime.
I chose to read and review In Her Defence for Rosie Amber’s book review team, based on a digital copy kindly supplied by the author.
About the Author
Jan Edwards – Winner of the Arnold Bennett Book Prize (for her crime novel ‘Winter Downs’) Recipient of a Karl Edward Wagner award (British Fantasy Awards) and Recipient of the Winchester Slim Volume award (for Sussex Tales). Short listed for both the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction and Best Collection.
Her short fiction has appeared in many crime, folk horror, horror, pulp, weird fiction, main stream and urban fantasy anthologies. For full list of writing credits follow the link to: Author Bibliography (Details here) inc Bookmuse Recommended Read award for her crime novel, Winter Downs!
She is part of the script team writing Olive Hawthorne: Daemons of Devils End – a 3 disc Dr Who DVD. As an editor Jan has produced fiction anthologies with editing partner Jenny Barber for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Press. Jan has ghost written for several other titles.
Born in Sussex, despite her thoroughly celtic parentage, Jan is currently living in Staffs Moorlands with 3 cats and husband, Peter Coleborn. In addition to being a writer she is also a Reiki Master Teacher and Meditational Healer and has been (in no particular order) Master Locksmith, motorcycle seller, bookseller, civil servant, ostler, market gardener, librarian…
BA hons, Eng. Lit. with creative writing; past chairperson of the British Fantasy Society and Fantasycon organiser.