‘No Stranger to Death’ is cosy crime at its cosiest, but with incest and paedophilia, AIDS and S&M thrown in. Set in Westerlea, a village on the English-Scottish Borders, all the characters live in the village (or have lived there recently) and know each other. The main character is Dr Zoe Moreland, a general practitioner, a newcomer and recently widowed, who chances upon the first body on burnt out Guy Fawkes bonfire whilst out walking her dog, then upon the second body (husband of the first one) a few days later. Zoe and her friend, Kate, decide to solve the crime, but tension rises when Zoe narrowly escapes a serious accident due to brake failure on her car. It appears that murderer has interfered with them.
On the romantic side, Zoe has recently struck up a friendship with craggy kitchen fitter Neil Pengelly, who has recently arrived from Cornwall. Both of them blow hot and cold and disregard the feelings of Neil’s brother, Peter. Also, Kate discovers to her embarrassment that the detective investigating the murders is her previous (and long abandoned) ex-boyfriend, Erskine Mather, whom she (hilariously) calls ‘Skinny’. He is one of the most distinctive characters in the story, immaculately turned out and with a wonderful dress sense, rigidly proper, as well as being good at his job. Such a contrast to your usual shambling Noir detective. In addition, Zoe’s position in her GP practice hangs on a knife edge, because, although the senior partner, Paul, is friendly and helpful, the other partner, Walter, is rude and hostile. We are told, in the blurb, that the author is intending to write a series and you can see, Dear Reader, how this sort of storyline could run and run.
The plot (of the current book) is tight and well-constructed, with characters and their lives flitting in and out of the story, and no loose ends… for seven-eights of the book. However, although the author lay one small hook very late in the story and there were no actual inconsistencies earlier in the plot, the identity of the murderer was a complete surprise. Ditto, the very last few page, which, I suspect, Janet put in as a taster for the next book.
An interesting element to ‘No Stranger to Death’ was the inclusion of a major character who was disabled – Kate who was profoundly deaf. Cath Nichols wrote a very interesting article about representation of disabled characters in Mslexia Issue 65 (March/April/May 2015). I think Cath would have approved of the way Janet wrote Kate because she had a ‘normal’ character, and a ‘normal’ life as a single mother, which was not defined by her disability, even
though the reader was made aware that Kate could lipread, that she had to face speakers in order to to lipread and that people needed to tap her on the shoulder to attract her attention. Although she figured in the book largely as Zoe’s side-kick, she had her own views on things and argued with Zoe frequently. Moreover, her ability to lipread came in handy in their detective work. Kate was definitely not there for reasons of political correctness, nor was she saintly like ‘Cousin Helen’ in ‘What Katy Did’ or magically ‘cured’.
So, Dear Reader, would I recommend ‘No Stranger to Death’? Yes, for a nice gentle read. Will I look out for the next in the series? Oh yes.