The Art Fiasco – Poppy Denby Investigates by Fiona Veitch Smith – a novel of the North East and intrepid women!

The Art Fiasco – Poppy Denby Investigates by Fiona Veitch Smith

It’s 1924 and there is murder and mystery in a city art gallery – a crime with roots in a local mining community and the city of Newcastle. This is a novel that I picked up because it was shown as local – to Newcastle that is – despite the fact that I have not read the earlier books in the series of “Poppy Denby Investigates” – and I loved it! The story roves around the buildings of Newcastle and at least one of the mining villages – Ashington – that I encountered when I lived locally. I enjoyed the setting and the time at which an exhibition of the work of a fictional artist Agnes Robson is taking place in the Laing Art Gallery, and young investigative journalist Poppy Denby is visiting from London. I have seen earlier books in this series but not actually read any yet – possibly because the earlier novels are set in London. I can therefore confirm that you can read this novel as a standalone.

The author has managed to encapsulate so much in the book – Poppy’s specific backstory in the same area as well as her career in London, the career choices now open to women and the reaction of more traditional people, the miner-artists groups that emerged in the interwar period, the pressure of past scandals and even murders among many more themes. The characters are vivid and memorable, as the author manages to differentiate between the women who feature in this novel. Poppy’s Aunt Dot uses a wheelchair and together with her friend Grace are a formidable force. There are references throughout the novel to a group of suffragettes in which the two women featured who had endured some hard times in the fight for equal suffrage. Delilah, Poppy’s friend and a successful actress is a resolute friend and an attractive character who provides a contrast to the more reserved Poppy, and gives the author more scope to describe the clothes that the young women wear in careful detail.

The book mainly observes Poppy’s progress in untangling the events of an evening and her experiences at the heart of the mystery. Her tentative relationship with a police officer is a relevant consideration as the plot plays out, but it is her own ability to search out the truth which is most important. Agnes’ story which emerges throughout the book is a fascinating one and provides a picture of life for women during the early part of the twentieth century. It is one of the many strengths of the book, and I found it fascinating.

This is a book that I was pleased to have picked up by chance and that I enjoyed greatly. That is  probably because of the way that the female characters were portrayed, in every variant of life choices and how they reacted to events around them. Poppy’s investigations were well described and are motivated by loyalties to friends and family as well as the truth. There as so many well drawn characters it is hard to pick out favourites, but I did admire Yasmin, KC and so competent as a parent and person. Altogether I found this an exceptional book which I really enjoyed, found difficult to put down and thoroughly recommend.