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Susan’s Bookshelves: The Corfe Castle Murders by Rachel McLean

I’ve had a thing about Corfe Castle since I was three years old. It’s that first glimpse of it through the Purbeck Hills as you drive from Wareham to Swanage along the A351. It got me then and it still gets me now. The grown ups were thrilled (I couldn’t think why at the time) when the day after my first sighting I created a sandcastle version on the beach with two pieces of driftwood. For that matter I’m very fond of Dorset in general. My grandmother came from Dorset and I was taken there annually until I was 16. Lots of fond memories. I still go as often as I can.

So how could I possibly resist a novel with a title like The Corfe Castle Murders especially as my go-to light reading is usually detective fiction?  And I wasn’t disappointed.

DI Lesley Clarke has been seconded to Dorset from the West Midlands following a trauma, the details of which gradually emerge. Before she even gets to work, the evening before she’s due to start, she and her daughter get involved in a murder incident. One of the academics on an archeological dig in Corfe Castle village has been bludgeoned to death and his much younger girl friend finds him and screams. Lesley happens to be nearby.

What follows is neatly plotted with all the requisite twists, turns, coincidences and byways a good detective story needs. And I liked the emphasis on the contrast between slow rural Dorset and the high octane, urban rough and tumble Lesley is used too. And every time she drives along the A351 I’m there with her.

She’s a well drawn character and good at her job. There are things going on in her own life too and one senses a long trajectory – the linking story across the series. This is the first of six books, all set in Dorset, with a seventh due later this year. There is also a free prequel detailing the case which led to the vacancy in Dorset – about which none of Lesley’s new colleagues want to talk.

Lesley is feisty, forthright and doesn’t suffer fools. She finds religious and insular Dennis, one of her sergeants, hard going but by the end of this first novel they are beginning to respect each other. She is also keen to expand the team and brings in a uniformed female constable – another strong character beginning to show initiative.

It would be an ideal one for a long flight, or a beach/garden read – as the weather warms up and you don’t want anything too demanding. It isn’t Great Literature but McLean writes well and this yarn held my attention to the very last page. The acid test is whether or not I read the next in the series. Probably will. Lesley is good company and I don’t need much excuse to visit Dorset.

Next week on Susan’s Bookshelves: The Drunken Forest by Gerald Durrell

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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