Friday, 11 June 2010

Oxford Menace by Veronica Stallwood

The Oxford mysteries featuring writer Kate Ivory belong in very much the same bracket as Jill Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy books, or my favourite, Hazel Holt's Mrs Malory (Sheila Malory has strong ties to Oxford, with early books about visits to old college friends and to her student son).

During the course of this series Kate progresses (at least, in her mother's eyes) from being a single woman with cat (which seems appropriate for the genre) to having a live-in partner, and has grown closer to her rather rackety mother, Roz, from whom she had been distanced, if not quite estranged. The still slightly difficult relationship with Roz often causes her worry, as when Roz takes up with some very dubious and predatory friends. There is also a shady ex-husband whom Kate has never met.

In Oxford Menace, however, Roz is in the background (or more exactly, on the phone) and the focus has shifted to the family who are amongst Kate's closest friends, the Dolbys. It's a large family, with lots of fierce Oxford aunts, and those chapters which revolve around the Dolby household, with apparently countless children (their own and other people's) are a particularly strong feature - you can see that Stallwood has known lots of similar Oxford families of harrassed, over-busy academics living amid a clutter of bikes, wellies and books on the Woodstock Road. Apart from her old college friend, Emma, Kate is fondest of the eldest son, Sam, now 18, and it is to her he turns when his girlfriend, Kerri, is being targeted by animal rights activists. Kate, who is one of those inquisitive types I can't comprehend but enjoy as fictional companions, is soon poking about and asking questions, trying to connect a series of apparently unrelated events, and the investigation proceeds much as usual in these cases.

Now, I must make it absolutely clear that this sort of domestic crime novel is meat and drink to me, and I scour the library shelves, and the virtual shelves of Bookmooch, for further instalments. I'm beginning to think, however, that Oxford is as dangerous a place to live as Midsomer (is Cambridge safer, or have I simply failed to find a series set there?). Kate Ivory's immediate circle seems very prone to murder and mayhem, so that I do feel she should choose her friends more carefully - if I knew her, I would definitely be avoiding dark alleyways. Since we are only fictional acquaintances, however, I shall continue to seek her out, and anyone who hasn't met her will be glad to know that there are eleven well-constructed, intelligent instalments, complete with atmospheric Oxford setting and likable heroine.


  1. *laughs* Seems like every protagonist of a series of mysteries has an improbably high incidence of crime and mayhem in his/her immediate vicinity. These books sound like fun!

  2. I read a couple of these books then forgot about them; must look out for them again. I love cosy mysteries and have one of my own coming out next year: a contemporary one, as a change from my Victorian ones. (Hoping to 'up' the Hampshire bodycount!)

    Favorite cosies are: Hazel Holt, Midsomer Murders, Miss Silver, Charlotte Macleod, Josephine Tey, and recent finds: Maisie Dobbs and Dandy Gilver. All great reads and very comforting in times of stress!

  3. I've just discovered your blog and am enjoying it very much. It's good to find another lover of Hazel Holt. My husband and I are great fans and I re-read them regularly when it's becoming too long to wait for a new one!
    I must try Veronica Smallwood. I have a feeling we have one of her books upstairs in the 'crime' section. (We have bookcases all over the house, fairly well categorised...) We love academic mysteries. Do you know the books about Gervase Fen (spelling?)? I can't remember the author offhand, because my memory is appalling these days, but they're from the Golden Age.
    I've added you to my blogroll...

  4. Jenny, just so! I'm watching the Wallander series at the moment and Ystad is suffering from the same problem!

    Penny, a belated welcome! Nice to meet another Hazel Holt fan - do try Stallwood, I think you'll enjoy. I haven't read a Gervase Fen book for years and now you mention them, I'm missing them, I used to really enjoy them - written by Edmind Crispin. A feel a visit to Amazon coming on. Thanks for the blogroll link - I must do some housekeeping here, too.