A Conflict of Interest by Claire Gradidge – a Josephine Fox novel set in historic June 1944

A Conflict of Interests by Claire Gradidge

In June 1944 life has suddenly changed in the town of Romsey in Hampshire, as the military forces that have been encamped disappear overnight. In this exciting and powerful novel, the main narrator, Josephine, Jo, Fox, is really struggling with her life. This is the third novel in the series featuring Jo and her curiosity and determination to discover exactly is going on in particular situations. I have not read the first two, so having enjoyed and followed this book I can say that it definitely works as a standalone.

In this book Jo has had a troublesome encounter with her husband Richard, and this is one of the themes of this well paced book. Her fragile relationship with Bram Nash, her employer, has been difficult for years, but they obviously have strong feelings for each other. The characters in this book are so well developed, described mainly through Jo’s eyes, that I soon felt thoroughly involved in the dilemmas that she faces. They are a true range of the people who she encounters, from an Irish nurse to a weary police sergeant, a poacher to a self-important surgeon. All are well drawn and consistent, despite the difficult circumstances that everyone is facing in a long war. The setting – of a country town with significant buildings, surrounded by countryside – is described very visually and with a real feeling for the area. The speed at which information – sometimes labelled as gossip – spreads throughout the community with dramatic effect. The writing style is clever, warm and inviting, and altogether I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review this book.

At the beginning of this novel a terrible incident, a car is discovered burnt out with a body inside. As the local Coroner, Bram is soon summoned to investigate, and as his assistant Jo accompanies him to view the grisly site of the event. When Bram’s long-standing wounds from his First World War service suddenly cause terrible problems, Jo is largely left alone in her search for the truth of what really happened. As people are struggling with daily life, Jo knows that she faces challenges in discovering the truth of the identity of the dead person, and the reason behind the death. She also is struggling to cope with Bram’s sudden illness, the people in his office and perhaps most significantly Sergeant Tilling’s suspicions that she knows more about the body in the car case than she will admit. When people are put at risk for helping her and she knows that everything could end in disaster, she knows she must act quickly.

There is some very impressive research behind the wartime conditions that Jo faces. The author describes the small details of the time so well, including Double Summertime, the need to supplement rations and how hospitals were affected is blended in with the storyline very well. and she never just dumps information. This is a well plotted book that benefits from a good sense of atmosphere and setting, with excellent characters. I will definitely be tracking down the first two books in the series and recommending it to all who enjoy a good murder mystery set in wartime.