A Death in the Night by Guy Fraser-Sampson #bookreview
A Death in the Night is the fourth book in the Hampstead Murders series which focus on the activities of the detectives based at Hampstead Heath police station in London. They are police procedurals that seek to pay homage to the spirit of the Golden Age of detective writing, particularly the principle that everything the reader needs to know to solve the crime themselves, is contained within the text.
The crime with which the detective team have to wrestle in A Death in the Night is the murder of Professor Fuller, mistress of a prominent barrister, who is found dead in her room at The Athena, an exclusive women’s club in Mayfair. By coincidence Detective Sergeants Bob Metcalfe and Karen Willis, together with psychologist Peter Collins, were all attending a vintage-themed dinner dance in the club at the time the woman is believed to have met her killer.
There are a multitude of suspects but very few clues. Added to the problem is that initially the initial identification of the body is incorrect. By the time the real identity is confirmed, the hotel room has been cleaned and vital evidence lost. To get at the truth the team, under the direction of their Golden Boy boss, Detective Superintendent Simon Collinson, have to meticulously dissect every statement from staff and guests as well as her lothario husband. Was Professor Angela Bowen killed by her lover or by his wife or perhaps by another of his mistresses? For a time the team are not sure if she was even the intended victim. Nor are they clear on how the murderer managed to obtain a spare key to the room unnoticed by all the people milling around the reception area. By the time they find the answers, reputations have been damaged irrevocably.
As with the other novel in the series I’ve read, Miss Christie Regrets (book 2 in the series), A Death in the Night is strong on procedure and on the setting. The atmosphere of the Mayfair club is captured particularly well. Amid the private equity firms and luxurious hotels frequented by Russian billionaires and “exotic creatures wearing handmade suits, bright waistcoats and permanent suntans” it is a reminder of Mayfair’s more dignified past.
Tucked into an unassuming corner position in Audley Square, its membership continues to be drawn from exactly the same sort of intelligent, well educated woman as it was back in its earliest days when Dorothy L Sayers used to write her books in its library and take tea and anchovy toast afterwards in one of its famously comfortable armchairs.
Designed to be a comfortable bolt hole for professional women who find themselves in the city, The Athena offers discretion for those who want a place to discreetly entertain male friends and companionship for those who dislike eating alone at restaurants.
As much as I admired the nod towards the Golden Age (Peter Collins is a devotee of Dorothy L Sayers and loves to drop her name into conversation) I felt the novel would have benefited from a lighter touch on the procedural aspects. The team meets every day to review progress which means there is a fair amount of repetition of key facts (presumably these reminders were give readers a good chance of spotting the clues). More problematic for me however was an early chapter where the Metropolitan Police Commissioner chairs a meeting to review a report recommending a reorganisation of the force’s detective resources. The intent was presumably to show that Superintendent Collison, the report’s author, is gaining respect among his superiors, but to me it was an overlong and unnecessarily detailed interlude that didn’t strongly connect with the narrative.
Don’t let this comment put you off the novel however. If you enjoy well constructed crime fiction and are happy with a measured pace, then this will certainly be a series to consider.
The Book: A Death in the Night was published in November 2017 by Urbane Publications UK. My review of Miss Christie Regrets is here.
The Author: Guy Fraser-Sampson has a list of writing credits to his name including works on finance, investment and economic history. He is best known as the author of three novels in the Mapp and Lucia series created by E.F.Benson.
Why I read this book: I received a review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
13 thoughts on “A Death in the Night by Guy Fraser-Sampson #bookreview”
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Hmmm… its been a while since I have read a good mystery
I can strongly recommend the series by Louise Penny – do you know her Sheila?
I’m glad you published this review because lately I’ve been wondering how my reviews of a series I’m reading sound. Do they make sense? Is it possible for to review a book later in a series and have readers connect with what I’m saying? You’ve done that beautifully here and given me a good example to reference!
It’s tough isn’t it – you want to give enough of the sense of the series to make it comprehensible to a new reader but on the other hand don’t want to irritate people who are already familiar with the series and just want to know how this particular book works……
Too much procedural stuff is a turn off for me. Thanks for the review.
Its a shame because this is in essence a good idea for a series.
The Athena sounds like a fictionalised version of the University Women’s Club – right round the corner from where I work in Mayfair! It sounds like the novel has its weaknesses, but the setting is impeccable.
Have you ever been inside that club? I wonder if the one in the club is based on an actual place…
I like when an author attempts to bring the Golden Age style up to date. John Gaspard is very good at it – the books feel modern but are usually one of the traditional types of mystery underneath – locked rooms, or a play on country house mysteries, etc. This series sounds like it might work for me…
I’ve not heard of Gaspard – one to keep an eye open for I think, especially since my sister is a big fan of the Golden Age
I read the first of these and vowed never again. I didn’t believe any of it, although it was reasonably well written. Not for me, I’m afraid.
Ive come to the conclusion unfortunately that this series doesn’t work for me either.