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“You know when you can have one of those days at the office? You spill coffee on your keyboard, the finance director goes on an expenses rampage and then, before you know it, your favourite author is murdered. Don’t you just hate when that happens?”
Meet Samantha Clair, a “middle-aged, middling-ly successful editor”. Having decided to publish a tell-all book by journalist Kit Lovell on the death of fashion-designer Rodrigo Alemán, life suddenly throws in some unexpected turns for Sam. In a staggeringly good comedy crime caper – of which there are few that actually work in a sustained fashion to the end – Sam’s life moves in the worlds of publishing and fashion, taking in a bit of money laundering, missing persons and murder along the way.
Why does this work so well? Sam is simply a very real character whose personal armoury comprises pragmatism, cynicism and sarcasm. Author Judith Flanders, well known for her historical non-fiction, has a background in publishing, so that is lovingly and hilariously laid bare. The rivalries of all serious matters “literary” feature and one of Sam’s authors delivers a manuscript that is definitely off-piste from her usual, reliable money-spinning fare, causing some consternation.
It’s easy to love Sam, but just wait till you meet her mother, lawyer Helena. Formidable, with more Energiser Bunny vigour than Margaret Thatcher possessed at her peak, Helena is both a stressor to Sam and a source of eccentrically delivered support.
It’s difficult to incorporate money laundering into a plot. Its very nature means that you can’t be too detailed. Then you need to ensure it’s not too light in order to keep it convincing. Flanders comes in pitch-perfect on this one. (Those familiar with these regulations may find the odd out of date reference but that doesn’t spoil the story one iota.)
This novel has arrived on the scene as a bit of a curve ball; make sure you catch it.
Originally published by Allison and Busby in hardback as Writer’s Block in March 2014, A Murder of Magpies is now available in paperback and ebook here.