Reading Rather To Be Pitied brought on a wave of nostalgia for a delightful weekend I once spent amid the hills, dams and isolated farmhouses of mid Wales.
This is book two in a crime fiction series by Jan Newton which is set in the area near the market town of Rhyadar. It’s a tranquil region much loved by walkers and cyclists for its trails around six enormous dams that supply water to Birmingham. As impressive as they are, I was there for the birds – it’s one of the few places in Wales you can spot red kites that were on the verge of extinction not so many years ago.
In Rather To Be Pitied, the tranquility of this farming community is disturbed by the discovery of a woman’s body near a walking trail used by Benedictine monks in centuries past. It proves to be a complicated case for the newest member of the local police force, Detective Sergeant Julie Kite..
Though the woman is identified fairly quickly, there’s no sign of her young son. He’s not the only missing person. The dead woman’s former neighbour has left her home and husband. The landlady at the B&B where the murdered woman spent her last night, hasn’t seen her husband in quite a while either. Are the two disappearances connected? And what does all this have to do with some ex soldiers who are working at a local farm?
There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot to navigate before the answers are revealed.
The police procedural aspect is well handled though maybe edged a bit too close to the obvious. What I enjoyed most was the chance to see this part of Wales through the eyes of a newcomer.
Manchester cop adjusts to rural life
Julie Kite was a copper in Manchester but found herself transplanted to an unfamiliar territory when her husband found a new teaching job in mid Wales. Life in her new home proceeds at a much slower pace than the high octane world of Lancashire policing. When you’re used to a battalion of emergency vehicles arriving on scene within minutes of your call, it’s agonising to wait for Welsh ambulances to negotiate slow country roads.
The challenges of rural life are compounded by the suspicion she encounters from one member of the police team. Then there are her own suspicions about her marriage. Is her husband’s former colleague stalking him with unwanted text messages or is there more to this relationship than he is letting on?
And then there are the complexities of the Welsh language. I enjoyed the running joke Jan Newton introduces based on the tongue-twisting nature of Welsh place names which seem impossible to pronounce:
She negotiated winding roads down into Newtown and on towards Welshpool where there were signs of life around the livestock market. Marchnad Da Byw y Trallwng. Where would you start with that? Which bit was Welshpool? She really ought to get around to learning Welsh …
But DS Kite finds there are some compensation as she tells her boss:
I love the way everybody knows everyone else and the fact that it’s completely silent at night. I love the views and the rivers and the way that people calculate journeys in minutes rather than miles.
I suspect that we’ll find that burgeoning appreciation for rural life will deepen as the series progresses. In a sense it has to in order for us to witness a maturing of the central character.
Voice of Authenticity
This was enjoyable read. Jan Newton describes the landscape and the local communities with the authenticity that comes from having driven those roads and met the inhabitants. It makes such a refreshing change to read a police procedural with a rural setting.
I also admired the dynamics of the police team. We get a jealous PC who resents the keen as mustard newcomer Kite and an energetic but kindly DI whose idea of investigation involves copious scones and cups of tea. The set up is complete with a fantastic forensic pathologist character in the form of a super smart and spiky woman who likes a tipple or two. As a Yorkshire lass, she knows how Kite feels to be an outsider.
Jan Newton planted two hints that the series could progress along a slightly different tack in future – one involving a hinted-at medical condition for Kite’s boss and another about her fascination for forensic pathology. It will be interesting to see if any of my predictions prove accurate.
Rather To Be Pitied: EndNotes
The Book: Rather To Be Pitied by Jan Newton was published by Honno Press in 2019. They also published Jan’s debut novel (the first DS Kite mystery) in 2017.
The Author: Jan Newton grew up in Manchester and Derbyshire and spent almost twenty years in the Chilterns before moving to mid Wales in 2005. She has worked as a bilingual secretary in a German chemical company, as an accountant in a BMW garage and a GP practice and as a Teaching Assistant in the Welsh stream of a primary school, but now she has finally been able to return to her first love, writing.
She graduated from Swansea University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing in 2015 and has won the Allen Raine Short Story Competition, the WI’s Lady Denman Cup competition, the Lancashire and North West Magazine’s prize for humorous short stories and the Oriel Davies Gallery’s prize for nature writing.
Why Did I Read This Book?: I was in the mood for some crime fiction and saw this mentioned on the Honno website. It’s counting towards the “Wales” category in my #20booksofsummer 2020 project.
Discover Other Welsh Authors
If you enjoy taut, high octane thrillers with good characterisation, Wicked Game by Matt Johnson is the perfect fit. Johnson takes us into the covert world of national security and intelligence services through the figure of Robert Finlay. He’s an ex SAS operative who thought he had left those days behind him, his past cloaked…
Emma Kavanagh’s training as a psychologist is very much in evidence in her most recently published novel: To Catch a Killer. This is a taut thriller which features Detective Sergeant Alice Parr, newly returned to duty after a traumatic incident in which she almost lost her life in when her apartment caught fire. Seven months…
Cynan Jones’ The Cove is less than 100 pages long but it’s packed with intensely atmospheric prose that sucks you in from the first paragraph and doesn’t let you go. It begins with a short prologue in which a woman stands on a shore waiting for the result of a rescue mission out in the…