Today’s book review of a crime novel is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
The Last Straw by Paul Gitsham
Synopsis: When Professor Alan Tunbridge is discovered in his office with his throat slashed, the suspects start queuing up. The brilliant but unpleasant microbiologist had a genius for making enemies.
For Warren Jones, newly appointed Detective Chief Inspector to the Middlesbury force, a high-profile murder is the ideal opportunity. He’s determined to run a thorough and professional investigation but political pressure to resolve the case quickly and tensions in the office and at home make life anything but easy.
Everything seems to point to one vengeful man but the financial potential of the professor’s pioneering research takes the inquiry in an intriguing and, for Jones and his team, dangerous direction.
Author bio: Paul Gitsham started his career as a biologist, working in such exotic locales as Manchester and Toronto. After stints as the world’s most over-qualified receptionist and a spell making sure that international terrorists and other ne’er do wells hadn’t opened a Junior Savings Account at a major UK bank (a job even less exciting than being a receptionist) he retrained as a Science Teacher. He now spends his time passing on his bad habits and sloppy lab-skills to the next generation of enquiring minds. Paul has always wanted to be a writer and his final report on leaving primary school predicted he’d be the next Roald Dahl! For the sake of balance it should be pointed out that it also said “he’ll never get anywhere in life if his handwriting doesn’t improve”. Twenty five years later and his handwriting is worse than ever but millions of children around the world love him.* You can learn more about Paul’s Writing at www.paulgitsham.com or www.facebook.com/dcijones *This is a lie, just ask any of the pupils he has taught.
After acknowledgements and a very useful summary of the plot (minus spoilers and the ending of course), the book starts with the discovery of a dead body, which is told in very authentic detail. We’re then introduced to the main character, Hertfordshire Police’s DCI Warren Jones. Assisted by DI Sutton and DC Karen Hardwick (who has very useful lab experience from her university days), Jones starts the investigation at Prof Tunbridge’s lab. They interview his colleagues, some of whom have strong reasons to have killed him as the picture painted of the professor is not a pretty one.
Secrets and scandals come out through the weave of suspects. One man is arrested but at only a fifth of the way the book, I suspected he wasn’t really the killer but was I to be proven correct?
There are snatches of Jones’ private life including his relationship with his wife Susan and her parents who are visiting for her mother Bernice’s birthday, none of whom are impressed with Warren’s regular absences.
There is humour laced throughout the novel especially the reference to washing powders. You’ll know what I mean when you get to it.
On the downside, there are far too many ‘nodded in agreement’ or ‘nodded in understanding’ – nodding is sufficient, and also when followed by his / her head. Ditto ‘sighed in frustration’, ‘drummed his fingers in irritation’ and mouth open in surprise’. The verbs when used in context would be enough.
Being a freelance editor, I review with my editor’s hat on rather than just as a reader so you may not find this necessary but there are many instances where I would have chopped e.g. unnecessary repetition: ‘a low murmur rippled around the room. Looking around…’ (and he looks around the room again a little later); ‘He’d left work early, recognising the early warning signs…’; ‘up the stairs to check the upstairs bedrooms…’. Also there are some adverbs that could go (e.g. ‘grabbed a pen quickly’ – grab = quick) and phrases like ‘the life-giving liquid’ (used I’m guessing to avoid the repetition of ‘blood’), Karen’s chagrin, and ‘was in good cheer’. There are occasionally slips of points of view within the same sections e.g. Karen feeling nervous, Prof Tompkinson noting the police officers’ blank looks, and Karen / Gary outside the karate club.
Clichés are always best avoided, including in dialogue where they can be got away with up to a point, and here we have ‘stopped dead in his tracks’, ‘cards close to his chest’, ‘turned on his heel’ (some of which were used more than once). A particular bugbear of mine is ‘Well,’ at the beginning of sentences in dialogue and sadly there are loads in this novel, to the point where they became really irritating.
Characters’ names are another thing that writers should be careful of. I’d recommend avoiding any with the same letter (and often send my editing clients an A-Z table – see ‘Characters: names’ on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writing-101). Here we have Tompkinson / Tunbridge / Turnbull / Tim / Tom / Tony, Stribling / Sutton / Sheehy / Severino / Spencer, Gavin / Grayson, Hardwick / Hastings / Harrison / Hemmingway, Alan / Antonio. Some obviously look quite different but others – usually those of similar length – can become confused. There were some other great names though, like Kel and Dazza.
Other than ‘Sutton shook hi head’ and in the epilogue ‘By know you know…’ and ‘Please now that I only…’, I didn’t find any obvious mistakes, albeit perhaps because I listened to it courtesy of Mrs Kindle.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Overall, an educational and entertaining novel. The best chapters for me were the last three where the story was the most gripping. Personally, this is how the book should have felt more often and I would have trimmed much of the detail so that it could have concentrated on the story itself and therefore been more of a – to use a cliché – page-turner. It would have then definitely scored a four.
Although the writing could do with an editing purge (hence losing another point), Paul is skilled at detail (too much in places for me but I’m more of a dialogue fan), characters and cliffhangers, especially in the final chapter. I shall be reviewing the follow-up, ‘No Smoke Without Fire’, in November and will, as regular readers of my reviews will have come to expect, be just as honest.
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.