Barbara Cleverly, bestselling author of the Joe Sandilands series, introduces an ingenious new sleuth who navigates 1920s Cambridge, a European intellectual capital on the cusp of dramatic change.
England 1923: Detective Inspector John Redfyre is a godsend to the Cambridge CID. The ancient university city is at war with itself: town versus gown, male versus female, press versus the police force and everyone versus the undergraduates. Redfyre, young, handsome and capable, is a survivor of the Great War. Born and raised among the city’s colleges, he has access to the educated élite who run these institutions, a society previously deemed impenetrable by local law enforcement.
When Redfyre’s Aunt Hetty hands him a front-row ticket to the year’s St. Barnabas College Christmas concert, he is looking forward to a right merrie yuletide noyse from a trumpet soloist, accompanied by the organ. He is intrigued to find that the trumpet player is—scandalously—a young woman. And Juno Proudfoot is a beautiful and talented one at that. Such choice of a performer is unacceptable in conservative academic circles.
Redfyre finds himself anxious throughout a performance in which Juno charms and captivates her audience, and his unease proves well founded when she tumbles headlong down a staircase after curtainfall. He finds evidence that someone carefully planned her death. Has her showing provoked a dangerous, vengeful woman-hater to take action?
When more Cambridge women are murdered, Redfyre realizes that some of his dearest friends and his family may become targets, and—equally alarmingly—that the killer might be within his own close circle.
Set in Cambridge, England, in 1923, this disappointing series launch from Cleverly (Diana's Altar) introduces Det. Insp. John Redfyre, the scion of a well-to-do family. When his Aunt Hetty persuades him to attend a holiday concert in her stead, he's pleasantly surprised to find that one of the performers is a pioneering female trumpeter, Juno Proudfoot. A second surprise is that the other seat Hetty was unable to use is occupied by Earwig Stretton, an attractive childhood acquaintance whose "laughter frothed and gurgled like champagne being poured by a generous hand." Less pleasantly, Juno is almost killed when she falls down the stage stairs after the music ends. John suspects the fall wasn't accidental, a thesis buttressed when the woman who distracted the stagehand from his duties at the time of the tumble is later murdered. The banter between John and Earwig is labored, and having a toff who attended the city's university assigned to the Cambridge beat as a policeman isn't novel in concept or execution. Readers will hope Cleverly returns to form next time.