Sunday, 13 February 2011

Murder Fortissimo by Nicola Slade

Retired headmistress Harriet Quigley decides to take advantage of recently opened, upmarket convalescent home, Firstone Grange, while she recovers from an operation. Plenty of time to recuperate without relying in help from her neighbours, she thinks, and at first she’s very pleased with her decision, if slightly disconcerted by the number of acquaintances who also seem to be frequenting the home.  Rather more perturbing, though, is the sudden and shocking death of another resident, a thoroughly unlovely woman who seems to delight in needling others and taking advantage of their frailties. 

Harriet is a really likeable and convincing protagonist, not rashly rushing in, but considering eventualities carefully. Her (and the reader’s) sympathies are engaged by the plight of some of her fellow residents, and she’s quite clear – as we are – about the people she doesn’t want to be responsible if the death of the most unpopular resident really turns out to be murder. Her clear-sightedness makes her cautious (welcome in a genre populated by women given to the let’s-split-up-and-go-into-this-dark-building school of investigation), and her experience of handling people is evident, and believable, as is her cousin Sam’s. She’s obviously used to being the sort of person who is confided in, someone generally respected and trusted by her fellows. Altogether, Harriet is admirable, rather the sort Miss Read would have been if she’d found herself caught up in a murder mystery, if perhaps a little sharper – even a little vainer – and more prone to seeing the funny side of things. Because, as usual with Nicola Slade’s books, her obviously irrepressible sense of humour is firmly there.

There’s a nice sowing of doubt about the other residents – plenty of motive and grounds for suspicion, as well as the persistent uncertainty that there has really been a murder at all. It has, after all, been filed under “accidental death” pretty rapidly. Perhaps, Harriet wonders, she has been just a little over-confident in her conviction that all is not what it seems? Perhaps, after all, it will turn out to have been a grisly accident? However, I think the reader can be fairly confident that a book called Murder Fortissimo isn’t going to lead us down any psychological blind alleys, that sooner or later Harriet will be on the track of a murderer and we can sit back and enjoy ourselves.

I did wonder at how quickly Harriet is whizzing about after her operation – I know she’s a determined lady but I think I’d have wanted to put my feet up a bit longer. On the other hand, one has to applaud her decision to go to a convalescent home in the first place – how eminently sensible. Again, in her place I think I’d have stayed at home and lived on beans on toast and whisky, but she’s clearly a woman of much more fortitude than me. Mind you, she has excellent taste in whisky, so of course I approve of her.

Harriet and Sam make an attractive pair of sleuths – they ought to have a long career of stumbling into nasty happenings ahead of them, it’s perfect Miss Marple territory. More, please!


  1. Again a writer completely new to me and one who sounds exactly right for the sort of horrible late winter's day we're having today. I don't think it's ever going to get light. From what you say this isn't the author's first book. What else would you recommend?

  2. It sounds like something I would enjoy reading, too. Regarding the whizzing about quickly after an operation - well, I suppose it depends on what kind of operation it was, and how physically challenging the whizzing about in the reconvalescing home actually is :-)

  3. Sounds good to me and yet another author who is
    new to me.

  4. I'm thrilled you liked it! It is available but only in HC. I guess I'll have to wait a bit. Great review. Nicola has been such a kind commenter on my blog. I hope she has great success with this book.

  5. I started to reply to you days ago, Annie, from the train, but we went into a tunnel and I abandoned hope! I liked Nicola's Victorian mysteries, Murder Most Welcome and Death is the Cure - she writes the sort of heroine you can empathise with.

    Librarian, I wouldn't like to miss the excuse for being really lazy!

    Nan, hope it will be out in paperback before long, I do think you'll enjoy it.

  6. Margaret, I've got weary eyes, I missed your comment there. Perhaps you can persuade the library to buy them :-)

  7. Great review, thank you, Geranium Cat. As for Harriet's rapid recovery, she was taught at school to be a strong woman and not a 'spineless jellyfish' - a phrase that (depending on your familiarity with Girls' Own schoolgirl literature) might very well identify the famous fictitious Swiss boarding school she attended! (I love sneaking in little jokes like that into the text!)