Oxford Blues by Andy Griffee
Narrowboat life can have its moments, and for Jack Johnson life can be more exciting than most. In this third book in the series he runs into all sorts of problems both off and on his boat, the “Jumping Jack Flash” when he moves from Bath to Oxford. His decision to move has a lot to do with Nina who has moved to the University city to spend time with her niece Anna. Although this is the third book featuring Jack and Nina, I firmly believe this can be read as a standalone mystery and really enjoyable novel, though of course it will encourage readers to think about reading the other two adventures. I found this book so readable and well written that I would recommend it to anyone.
The characters of Jack and Nina, and of course Eddie the dog, are well established. Nina is a young soldier’s widow, who has spent time with Jack on the boat, but who is reluctant to make any sort of commitment. Jack’s affections for Nina are an ongoing theme in the book, but other situations, often dangerous, seem to get in the way. This is a vivid and sometimes touching book which I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.
The book opens with the discovery by two magnet users of a body at a weir which marks the meeting place of the Thames and Isis. It appears to be the body of a young woman, but she is not immediately recognisable. Jack then takes up the story of how he has moved the boat single handed from Bath to Oxford, despite the poor weather. He is delighted to see Nina and Anna waiting for him in the approach to Oxford, and to hear how Anna has coped with family tragedy and her first term as an undergraduate. Nina says she has found a place to stay, so is not going to be on her niece’s case all the time. Jack records that it is an ironic statement given what happens. He also knows that he will have to look for work as a journalist soon. The assignments he does eventually find will take him into the heart of some strange events.
As with the other novels, the focus then moves from Jack to describe someone whose motives are far from innocent. Finn Connolly is an ex cage fighter, who now keeps fit and runs dubious business ventures, which include picking up school age girls from downmarket estates to distribute drugs. Jack then meets a very different character in the form of Caleb Hopper, a wealthy and extremely good looking American postgraduate student who is training to row in the University boat. As a tragic discovery is made, Jack’s investigations aided and abetted by new acquaintances and Nina and Anna place several people in active danger as crime and danger collide.
This is a totally engaging book which is difficult to put down. Jack, Nina and other characters have real depth, especially as Jack records their reactions to his unorthodox investigations. Being a “liveaboard” means that each new mooring has its challenges, and a new cast of neighbours who get involved in Jack’s escapades in one form or another. There are moments of real tension in this novel, as well as humour, especially in the lively dialogue. I really enjoyed this book, a sparkling crime, thriller, mystery novel with real depth and a sharp insight into contemporary life. I cannot wait for more adventures from this extremely talented author.