A Capital Crime – a gripping read

So last week, after a quick visit to the home of that great blog -www. Redplog.wordpress.com – we went about as far away as possible from the setting of today’s book.  We got an early train to Pitlochry, which is Northern, even for us. And it was beautiful. A log fire, an aga, and a lovely warm heating system, and for the first time in many weeks, it was hot! The scenery was incredible, and although it was a short visit, lovely to see some friends from the South again. Thank you, SA and MA!

The book that I read on the train (a very civilized way to travel) took as its setting London, about as far away as possible from our journeying. A Capital Crime by Laura Wilson, is the third in a series of crime novels featuring DI Stratton.

This is the first book in the series I have read, and would perhaps not have attempted it if not for an enthusiastic librarian, as the subject matter is not tempting me at the moment. It is, however, a really gripping read and I found myself turning eagerly onwards to see what would happen. Set in the very early 1950s in a rationed, grey London, there seems very little cheer in this book. A crime is confessed, inquiries made, and a tragedy uncovered. The police are more or less convinced by their investigations and the full horrific details of the double murder touches many chords for Stratton and his colleagues, resulting in the conviction and hanging of a man.

Unease persists, not least among the family of the central character. There is a parallel and intersecting  story of a woman known to Stratton, who has also featured in the previous novels. Diana Calthrop is a woman with a past, and is struggling with her future. Her story is also fascinating, and I was keen to find out what happened to her.

This is, for many potential readers, an historical novel. It is a murder mystery, but more in the nature of putting the pieces together than whodunnit. It creates an impressive narrative, full of detail and a sense of the era. I felt as if I really wanted to know what happened to the characters, and the sense of fear, anger and frustration is involving. It is brutal, but not violent, and some of the descriptions of death and despair are very moving. Out of context it may seem a little gratuitous, but the gritty detail I think is necessary to constructing the whole. Given the situations of the main characters, it is particularly good on relationships, painful, brittle and realistic.

This is not a cheerful book, and once started you will want to read it in a short time. It is not a book to pick up and put down; it deserves to be read as a whole. Normally I would try to read a series in order, but this book stands alone, although the reader would probably benefit from a background knowledge of the previous two novels. As a picture of the legal system in the early 50s it is excellent, and it is indeed based on a two real cases, but not slavishly so. It is an strong argument against capital punishment, and the imperfections of a system in which everyone did their best, even though the guilt threatens to overwhelm on occasions. Read this book if you want a challenging, well written novel which creates a gritty world.