After a career in TV production Helen Bettinson recently ditched a long commute around the M25 in order to concentrate on reading, and perhaps even writing, crime fiction.
The third outing for Laura Wilson’s sympathetic, self-doubting policeman, Ted Stratton, sees the action jump from the wartime years of her earlier novels to the drabness of 1951. The immediate danger of bombs has receded but poverty and shortages continue to blight the lives of careworn Londoners, and the petty frustrations of everyday life are brilliantly evoked, not least in the modest and unremarkable home life of our dependable Detective Inspector.
His job is to wrap up the seemingly open-and-shut case of a young man, John Davies, who claims to have killed his wife and baby daughter. The confessor’s apparent guilt is confirmed by the testimony of his middle-aged neighbour, Norman Backhouse, a retired special constable eager to assist the police in their investigation. Davies’s conviction and execution follow swiftly, despite Stratton’s misgivings. The discovery of human remains at the same address two years later reawakens the Inspector’s fear of a miscarriage of justice.
Anyone familiar with the social history of this bleak period will recognise the thinly veiled stories of Timothy Evans and John Christie; the novelist’s Paradise Street standing in for the real Rillington Place. Hijacking a notorious true-life case for fictional purposes brings both benefits and problems – it adds genuine horror but denies the reader the element of whodunnit. To compensate, Wilson winds up the suspense by allowing the serial killer to remain at large, a potential threat to the women Stratton loves. The return of beautiful ex-MI5 agent, Diana Calthrop, makes for an involving sub-plot that promises much for the next book.