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Rather To Be Pitied by Jan Newton: Crime In Rural Setting [Book Review]

Book cover of Rather To Be Pitied by Jan Newton

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.

Portrait in colour of Jan Newton, author of Rather To Be Pitied

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.

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What I’m Reading: Episode 28, July 2020

I completely forgot to do this update in June. I shall have to make this a bumper episode about what I’m currently reading, what I recently read and what I plan to read next. 

What I’m reading now

Like many of you I’m finding it hard to focus while the word around me is in such chaos. I keep picking out books from my “owned but unread” shelves, reading a chapter and then losing interest. So I have five partially read books dotted around the house. None of them are badly written, they are just not suiting my mood at the moment.

Three have so far managed to retain my interest.

On my Kindle is a crime novel by an author who has chosen to make her home in Wales. Rather To Be Pitied is the second in a series by Jan Newton which features Detective Sergeant Julie Kite. They are all set in mid Wales which makes a refreshing change; so many crime novels have a city setting. I’m enjoying discovering the locations through the eyes of this DS who has moved to Wales from Manchester. Given Jan Newton’s current home is in Wales, and her book is published by Honno Press (A Welsh independent company) this novel more than fits the criteria for the “Wales” category in my 20BooksOfSummer reading project.

My project to read all of Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series, moved a little closer to the finishing line last month when I read Framley Parsonage. I’ve now moved on to book number five which is The Small House At Allington. It’s a lot more domestic in its focus than the previous books have been. While the previous books revolved around the political and religious worlds, this one concerns young woman of independent spirit who nonetheless longs to be loved.

Finally, a book I started reading in May but have only just reached the half way mark. I absolutely love The Mirror and The Light by Hilary Mantel but find it takes a lot of concentration to fully appreciate and I don’t have that right now. So I’m reading it in small sections….

What I just finished reading

Back in 2019 I took out a monthly subscription with the Asympote Book Club, the only club I’ve found which is dedicated to world literature in translation. It’s introduced me to some fantastic new authors and books that I would never have discovered myself.

Love by the Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik is a slim volume but for tension and intensity it knocks socks off novels that are double its size. It recounts the story of one icy night in the lives of a mother and her son. Though the book is called Love, it actually deals with emotional distance or the absence of love. Mind-blowingly brilliant in the way it weaves narratives from mother and child as they both venture out from the safety of their home onto the perilous darkened roads of a village.

What I’ll read next

I might return to one of those partially-read books I mentioned earlier. But I’m more likely to choose one of the novels that will be coming out in the next few months like Kate Grenville’s A Room Full Of Leaves and The Mission House by Carys West.

Also tempting me is They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell which was published in 1937 but is being reissued as a Random House Vintage edition. It’s a portrait of an ordinary American family struck by the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and having read a review of it just this weekend, I know it’s going to be one I enjoy.

On top of that I have The Dutch House by Ann Patchett to read for the book club meeting in August. So, as always, I am not exactly lost for options.


Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.


This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

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