The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene

Written by E V Harte

Review written by Isabelle George

Isabelle George is a book reviewer and travel writer

The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene
RRP: £8.99
Released: September 7 2017

I wonder if Scotland Yard has a Tarot Card department? They must have had people with all sorts of skills, real and imagined, offering their crime solving services over the years but Tarot Cards maybe a new one.  On the basis of this novel they would be foolish to turn down the offer from Tarot Card reader Dolly Greene whose regular reference to the Cards leads her to pursue the people around her in her small south London terrace.

The plot centres on Dolly who, in an unusual representation of the modern gig economy, has decided to turn her expertise at reading Tarot Cards into a professional enterprise.  Sadly she can’t garner enough bookings to earn a regular income and shares her tiny house with her modern and ever so slightly sceptical daughter.  The pair make a nice duo as their lives intertwine and Pippa tries to drum up clients for her mother’s card reading sessions, leading to the appearance of unsuitable or unwilling candidates on the other side of Dolly’s small table.

Tarot Cards for many have become at tad scary, not least because of the menacing images on them. Dolly’s first client, a blowsy blonde named Nikki, is suitably rattled when the Death card appears.  Dolly carefully explains that it is not the death of a person, but of a relationship, or of an unsatisfactory way of life.  This rather cleverly makes the cards seem helpful and friendly and as such they take on a starring role in the book.  Dolly turns to them for quick reassurance the way others might have a quick drink, and they are a ubiquitous presence in her life, and thus in the book.

It is not Nikki’s Card reading but Dolly’s sudden vision of a bloodied body which alerts her to the possibility of misdemeanours in her neighbourhood.  But whose body is it?  Is it a premonition, or has a corpse been found?  In increasingly focused pursuit of this question Dolly pays closer attention to her neighbours - starting with Maurice, the reclusive and quixotic retired Jamaican man living next door.  Who is the frightening man who claims to be his son when Maurice denies having a son?  And what is the story behind unlikely couple Fraser and Rosie Buck and their dysfunctional pairing?  Is Terry, the anonymous computer nerd, significant?  And will the nice investigating policeman summon the courage to ask Dolly out?

All of these characters, though slightly one-dimensional, are credible and the ties that may or may not connect them are sufficiently disguised to keep the reader guessing.  There is, of course, a satisfactory resolution - which I had not anticipated, and it is always a pleasure to be out manoeuvred by a crime writer - and there is a nice lightness of touch and humorous tone running through the narrative to make this a very enjoyable read.

My one caveat is that in perhaps an overzealous attempt to “make it real” Ms Harte overdoes the topical references, so within the first few pages there have been mentions of Tesco, TripAdvisor, Ikea and Brad Pitt.  This imbues the text with a mundanity which it does not need to root it in its London setting.  Such specific references are hostages to fortune as they will ultimately date the book, and it is not necessary to understand the time and place so exactly to enjoy the story.

The author, E. V. Harte is a pseudonym, we are told, for a professional Tarot Card reader and with her likeable protagonist making the cards seem both accessible and less menacing than their reputation, I hope we may be treated to more stories featuring The Tarot Detective.

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