Too Soon a Death by Janet O’Kane

Janet O’Kane’s second book Too Soon a Death follows on from No Stranger to Death, set in a fictional village in the Scottish Borders and continues the story of Doctor Zoe Moreland, a widow and one of the doctors at the local health centre. A boy’s body is discovered on the banks of the River Tweed, near the Chain Bridge, linking Scotland and England and Zoe is asked to help identify the body because he had a note in his clothing giving the health centre’s address and phone number – but he was not one of their patients.

Zoe is not without her own problems. I think this book reads well as a stand alone book, but it certainly helps to have read the previous book, which explains her current condition. At the beginning of Too Soon a Death she is still recovering from a vicious attack (details in No Stranger to Death) and is heavily pregnant.

As the events unfold, she receives anonymous phone calls and is followed by someone in a blue car, who at one point almost runs her down. Added to that her best friend Kate Mackenzie, a deaf genealogist, is having problems both with her ex-husband and a client, with disastrous results. Can Zoe trust a new acquaintance, the vet Patrick Dunin – she wonders who it is that keeps phoning him claiming his attention? A large, vicious looking dog attacks Zoe’s own dog and is savaging sheep. Where has he come from? And that is not all – Zoe has secrets in her own past that are finally revealed in this book.

In some respects Too Soon a Murder has a Midsomer Murders atmosphere, and a general ‘cosy’ feel, but it is not without violence. Its main focus, however, is on Zoe, how she is coping with her pregnancy, her plans for Keeper’s Cottage, which she has bought from Kate’s brother and her hopes to become a partner in the health centre. The crimes are investigated by DCI Erskine Mathers and Sergeant Trent, with Zoe’s assistance, although there are things she can’t tell the police because of patient confidentiality. It has a great sense of location (this may be helped because I know the area a little bit, living a few miles away on the English side of the Border), and the characters are well grounded and believable people, even the minor characters such as Margaret Howie, the practice receptionist, comes across as a character in her own right.

My thanks to Janet O’Kane for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m looking forward to reading her third book, which she is currently writing.

Reading challenges: My first book for the Read Scotland Challenge –  a book set in Scotland.

No Stranger to Death by Janet O'Kane

No Stranger to DeathMy thanks to Janet O’Kane for sending me a copy of her book,  No Stranger to Death, which I really enjoyed reading.  Once I’d started it I just wanted to keep on reading. I was surprised by how intricate and complex the plot is, with several sub-plots and a crowd of characters, all of whom are clearly defined. Set in the Scottish Borders, it also has a strong sense of location and it was refreshing to read a Scottish crime novel that is not set in Edinburgh, Glasgow or even in Shetland. It’s a fast-paced novel that kept me on the edge wanting to find out more.

No Stranger to Death begins with recently widowed Dr Zoe Moreland’s discovery of a body in the remains of a Guy Fawkes bonfire. Westerlea, a fictional village, is a place where everybody knows everyone, but even so it seems everyone has something to hide.  Zoe is new to the village, having moved from there from England to join the Health Centre as a GP and with the help of her new friend, Kate Mackenzie, she soon finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. This is not a police procedural, although Detective Erskine Mather of Police Scotland is in charge of the investigation.

It’s not only the villagers who have secrets, as there is something in Zoe’s background that she wants to keep to herself and getting involved in a murder investigation is the last thing she wanted:

She had gone back to using her maiden name when she came to Scotland, but would that protect her against people whose job it was to dig up the past of anyone remotely connected with a sensational crime? (page 29)

As Zoe and Kate dig deeper quite a few nasty secrets come to light with almost disastrous consequences and Zoe is in fear of her own life. No Stranger to Death touches on some quite dark themes with an ending that took me by surprise.

Janet O’Kane lives in the Scottish Borders and she is currently writing a follow up to No Stranger to Death, again featuring Zoe Moreland. For more information see her blog – Janet O’Kane: Crime Fiction with a Heart and her Facebook page.

As well as being a really good book in its own right, No Stranger to Death meets the criteria for both the Read Scotland 2014 challenge and the My Kind of Mystery challenge.