Fair of Face by Christina James

Tina Brackenbury and her baby daughter Bluebell are dead …

Fair of Face

Fair of Face is the sixth novel in the DI Yates series and  I think it stands well on its own. It is not a book you can read quickly as there are plenty of characters and several plot threads that need to be kept in mind. It is an intricately plotted mystery, re-assessing a crime from the past whilst investigating a present day murder, set in Spalding in Lincolnshire. I  didn’t find it an easy book to review.

The book begins with Tristram Arkwright, a prisoner in HMP Wakefield. He works in the prison library and is secretly in correspondence with Jennifer Dove, a bookseller who regularly supplies the prison. Jennifer is bored and finds Tristram a welcome diversion. He, meanwhile, is planning an appeal against his sentence insisting he is innocent.

Tina’s 10 year old foster daughter, Grace Winter was staying with a friend, Chloe and arrives home as DI Tim Yates and DS Juliet Armstrong are beginning their investigations into the deaths of Tina and Bluebelle. Grace acts strangely and doesn’t seem very upset by the murders and asks to see the bodies. But Grace has had a difficult life as this isn’t the first murder that she has encountered. Four years earlier her mother, sister and grandparents had been killed at their farmhouse and Grace had escaped by hiding in a cupboard. Grace was then adopted by Amy Winter, and only later sent to live with Tina. Her friend, Chloe, also has a troubled background, with brothers who are regularly in trouble with the police. She is noticeably intimated by them and by Grace. As both girls are only 10 years old the police work with Social Services in order to question them

I struggled for a while to sort out the relationships between all the characters and the relationship between the opening chapters and Tina and Bluebell’s murders. The narrative switches between the first person present tense (Juliet) and the third person past tense, which I found a bit awkward until I got used to it. And I was confused by characters with similar names – Tom and Tim for example – regularly having to check who was who. I also failed to see relevance of Jennifer Dove’s character in the opening chapters. But despite these drawbacks I enjoyed the book and was eager to solve the mysteries.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy of the book.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Salt Publishing (15 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1784631086
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784631086
  • My rating: 3*

4 thoughts on “Fair of Face by Christina James”

  1. This isn’t a series I’ve come across and I’m always on the lookout for new police procedurals. Have you read the earlier volumes? Would you recommend them? This does seem to have a lot of complex relationships going on.

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    1. I’ve read the 3rd book in the series – Sausage Hall. It’s also a complicated mystery – one in the past and one in the present and I preferred it to Fair of Face. I liked the historical element, linking Cecil Rhodes with the then owner of Sausage Hall. It also explores the murky world of illegal immigrants. I’m not sure if I would recommend them but I did enjoy them, despite the use of the first present tense in both books for one character. I think it’s a bit odd, but I am getting more acclimatised to the use of the present tense than previously. There was a time when seeing the present tense was an instant no-no for me!

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      1. Yes, I can remember the first novel I read in the present tense. It was actually a very clever choice because it was first person and the protagonist was a mother whose child had been snatched and the present tense brought home the immediacy of the horror she was feeling, but I still found it quite disconcerting. These days I hardly even notice it.

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