Folly Ditch by Anna Sayburn Lane
Helen Oddfellow has a talent for spotting literary links that no one else has seen for many years – but in this novel she also has a tendency to get into trouble. In this fourth Helen Oddfellow Mystery she thinks she may have found Dickens’ Nancy, but she may also have found a link to an old enemy. This book works well as a standalone thriller mystery as well as updating fans of the literary researcher on her latest adventures. Once again, I am very grateful for the opportunity to discover more of the world of a literary detective, combined with a vivid treatment of a contemporary issue. In this book there is a brutal and chillingly relevant description of people trafficking and those who benefit from the “debt slave” conditions that is part of the industry. I found it to be a genuine simmering thriller of the best sort where various characters are focused on and their motivation revealed.
In addition to Helen, whose discovery of an old book and cutting propels her into an archive search, Nick, a resourceful investigative journalist is looking into an extreme group which is fiercely opposed to immigration in all its forms. The self-appointed members of the Patriot group turn out to be a violent mob, and Nick and his contacts are kept busy trying to discover what is truly going on. Both Helen and Nick are dismayed to see that Gary Paxton has been released from prison, as both bear scars of his previous crimes and their confrontations with him. Helen is also getting fed up with her single life, and is concerned that her academic job is on the line when she is summoned to see the new head of department at the University, Emmanuel Brown. Instead, she is dispatched to Rochester to help at a Reception for potential donors at a new Dickens exhibition. As Dickens is one of the subjects of her London walks, she is keen to see the exhibition. It is when she buys an old book at a strange bookshop that she is set on the trail of one of the best-known characters from Oliver Twist, the doomed Nancy. Her research in the potential inspiration for the character gives her academic research a boost. She also appears to have attracted the attention of an admirer who shares her curiosity about Dickens, even though he is not really a reader. A return to the bookshop in Rochester seems to spark off a chain of events which will test many characters.
I enjoy the Oddfellow books because of their clever combination of literary mystery with a thriller type plot. There is a certain amount of violence which is in keeping with the tough themes that Anna likes to tackle in her novels. Not that I have to be a literary expert to appreciate the importance of the discoveries that Helen makes in the novels, just to know that in the case of classic authors the discovery of a new insight into their lives or work would be hot news. Helen has also developed as a character through the novels, though her willingness to become involved in potentially dangerous situations and her curiosity seems undimmed. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel on so many levels, as a contemporary thriller and a literary search as well as a well plotted novel. I recommend it to anyone in search of a good read with a contemporary theme and literary aspects with fascinating characters.