A Fatal Secret by Faith Martin – A Loveday and Ryder mystery set in Oxford, 1961

A tragic death given full weight and impact on a family and community gives a tough challenge for an innovative duo who investigate crimes in 1960s Oxford.Probationary  WPC Trudy Loveday finds being a rare creature in a totally male dominated force tricky enough, but is also unsettled by her parents’ attitude to her career choice and other actions. Her friend and fellow investigator, Coroner Clement Ryder, has a secret he is unwilling to share with even with Trudy, but puts aside his difficulties to investigate a death that he can only find to be accidental in the first instance. It is only when an influential man asks for help that the Loveday and Ryder take action, and what they discover has implications for more than a family estate which seems to be frozen in time. It takes extreme bravery from more than one person to resolve anything, and the implications of their discoveries are potentially huge. 


This is a thoroughly engaging mystery, and the setting and background details not only show extensive research, but also a genuine feeling for place and time. Although the latest in a series, this book works extremely well as a standalone mystery novel  which may tempt you to track down the earlier volumes. As always, Martin show her experience and ability to convey the essential nature of a character in a few deft strokes. The subtle references to people’s rooms and behaviour under pressure reveals so much about their very nature. Even moments of high drama are peppered with details of small incidents which make this a book which succeeds on so many levels. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this elegantly clever book.


WPC Trudy is working on Easter Sunday and anticipating a quiet day when a call comes in concerning a missing child. As a body is discovered the causes seem innocent enough as the boy has apparently met with a tragic accident. Even at the inquest overseen by Coroner Ryder the verdict seems fairly straightforward, and it is only when an influential member of the landowning family asks Ryder to get involved that he summons Loveday away from her mundane police duties to assist him in investigating further.  Their method of interviewing various people in and around the “Big House” stirs up several secrets as well as revealing the remaining importance of the village hierarchy. Life in a college is summed up quickly and effectively, and there is a swift procession of settings for questions which prove to be unpopular with several people.


The chief strength of this novel is the interplay between Ryder and Loveday, as the young woman realises that wealth and privilege can ease life, but that it does not necessarily guarantee happiness. Ryder reveals something of his past, in trying to use his wealth of experience to understand the truth behind the situation. A genuine warmth for people perminates Lovejoy’s actions, whereas Ryder’s social confidence means that he can cope with otherwise tricky people and situations. I really enjoyed this book set in 1961, and revealing much about the pressures on the few women police officers at that time. This is a book which captures a certain place and time which finds echoes in contemporary life. 

A Fatal Flaw by Faith Martin – a historical mystery set in 1960s Oxford

Oxford, 1960. An unexplained death, a pair of investigators, a beauty contest. There are so many wonderful things to enjoy in this book, a must for fans of “Endeavour”, that I thoroughly recommend it. Faith Martin revels in creating an atmosphere that combines the domestic realities of daily life in 1960 with the problems of a mystery that defies an easy explanation. The characters are tremendously realistic, and each nuance of their appearance, behaviour and reactions are lovingly written. As a novel it is fascinating, as a mystery it is intriguing, and I was extremely glad to receive a special copy of this book, the second in a series featuring some of these characters.

This novel opens with a mysterious figure collecting yew berries for an unknown purpose, a fact that soon gets lost as Trudy Lovelace, new Woman Police Constable, is consulted by her old school friend Grace Farley. Grace is working for the fierce Mrs Dunbar, whose husband is organising the promotional “Miss Oxford Honey Beauty Pageant”, and who insists that Grace organises the contestants as her husband shows too much interest in the young women. This scenario is so much of its time, yet gives a perfect backdrop for young women to be sharing dressing rooms and to present a target for pranksters and worse. Trudy is unsure whether a lowly constable such as herself will be allowed to investigate, so she approaches her former colleague, the coroner Dr Clement Ryder. A man with his own secret, Ryder agrees to facilitate an undercover investigation while posing as a judge. Trudy goes undercover as a contestant, much as she is reluctant to walk the catwalk. As more is explored about the world of the competition, the families of various girls are revealed in their settings. This has the effect of humanising these young woman, some of whom are determined to win the contest or other prizes.

The narrative style of this book in the third person reveals much about the time, the characters and the mystery at the heart of the novel. It is gentle, thoughtful and yet has a strong undertone. I greatly enjoyed the development of the story and the revelation of the characters, as it is sometimes funny, always to the purpose and satisfactorily concluded. This is the sort of book which kept me awake as I found it quietly compelling, and I was keen to find out what would happen next. Clement Ryder is a fascinating character, as he pulls strings and makes possible an investigation even though there is some doubt about if there was an actual crime committed. It is a sign of how far times have changed that Trudy’s reluctant fascination with the clothes involved in the competition is innocent rather than indignant, and that she knows that given half a chance she would be relegated to family liaison and dealing with female offenders. This is an historical crime novel written with a lot of feeling for the time, and I would be keen to read other adventures of Trudy and Clement.


Meanwhile last night we went to see the film “Mary, Queen of Scots”. Apart from sitting very close to the screen, we enjoyed it very much, even if the geography of Scotland was unrealistic to say the least. I thought that Margot Robbie was very strong as Elizabeth, and the make up most effective. Some interesting decisions had been made about the filming, not least  in barely touching on the long imprisonment endured by Mary which seemed to have aged Elizabeth but left Mary unmarked. It was an interesting view of women in a very male environment, and to a certain extent argues that in order to survive a woman must become male in all senses.  A film well worth seeing.