Having fallen a little bit in love with Poppy Denby in her first outing, The Jazz Files I was thrilled to see that the author had come up with another mystery for this enterprising journalist to solve.
The story itself is set mainly at places in and around Fleet Street, London where Poppy now has the grand title Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Daily Globe. The time is 1920 and there is a fabulous exhibition at Crystal Palace displaying Russian Art. Poppy is there covering the journalism and her boyfriend Daniel is there to take the photographs. With Poppy’s artistic friends, including the actress Delilah Marconi, all in attendance suddenly a gunshot is heard and when order is restored a valuable piece of art has disappeared.
You see when I said the story was mainly set in London, parts of it are seen in flashback style to the time of the Russian revolution some three years previously. Not so much in the way of parties in evidence in this part of the book but what links the two, apart from the obvious Russian link, is the bravery and tenacity of the characters.
In many way these books are a bit of a romp, with plenty of danger for Poppy to extract herself from, the dead bodies in true Golden Age style not belonging to anyone who will be mourned too long or too hard, or to characters who we haven’t even got to know before they are deceased. But the author has gone to a great deal of trouble to realistically create the time period, and the research underpinning it all is factual (and where it is not, Fiona Veitch Smith confesses to some elastic timings at the end). Better still for those of us whose knowledge of the Russian Revolution there is a handy foreword to give some idea of who the White Russians were and how they differed to the Red Russians.
The plotting was good and far more complex than the very attractive cover belies and the pace was fairly fast so you do need to concentrate to keep up with all the potential killers, thieves and spies that litter the pages of The Kill Fee, the title taken from the amount of money that newspaper mogul Rollo is offered to kill a story – the question is not only should he but even if he does, how many people know the truth – the last thing Rollo wants if for his rivals to steal the story.
The skill the author has is getting in the period details without the research overshadowing the storyline and she’s good. Those little details such as the music that was played, the fashionable items of the day and the food that was eaten are all sparingly yet effectively used, but what is superbly done is the seemingly contemporary view when for instance Poppy notices that Ye Olde Cock Tavern was a favourite of both Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys. All of this brings the scenes to life and offsets the more bizarre scenarios that beset our young heroine.
With the relationships and the background to how Poppy became a journalist held in the first book, I’m not sure how well this would work as a stand-alone read so I suggest if you are tempted to start at the beginning.
I’d like to say thank you to the publishers Lion Fiction for allowing me to read a copy of this book ahead of the publication day of tomorrow, 16 September 2016.