Probation officer Alex Hastings is struggling with the customs, dialect and prejudice she faces as an incomer to the Somerset Levels. When one of her probationers, Kevin Mallory, is charged with murdering the Elver Man , who operated in the poaching underworld, she is embroiled in the investigation. Determined to prove Mallory is innocent, Alex puts her own career at risk as she searches for the truth behind the Elver Man s death, but her efforts attract the attention of the real killer. Alex finds herself drawn into a web of family feuds, gang loyalties and revenge killings as an unknown predator stalks her across the eerie landscape of the Levels. This is a stunning debut by a new force in crime fiction and the first in a quartet of Alex Hastings novels.
I would like to thank the author and blog tour organiser for the ARC in return for an honest review.
There are a few reasons I enjoyed this book.
The story felt original and fresh. Most murder mysteries feature police officers as their primary characters, but Jennie Finch gave us a story based around over worked and harassed Probation officer Alex Hastings! I loved being taken into the world of a character willing to risk her career to help a man she is convinced did not kill the Elver Man of the title. It felt fascinating to see the work of this part of the criminal justice system, whose work was the backdrop for the story. There is a lot to be said for originality, it gives the book an edge, a difference that reels you in and leaves you wanting to spend more time with the complex and often frustrated Hastings.
The atmosphere was tense and filled with moments of suspense and surprise. Amidst gang led crime and feuds I felt quite worried for Alex and her colleagues. It felt real that she could get caught up in this mess. New to the job, she wants to prove to her colleagues she can hack the constant pressure and therefore puts herself in danger. She is naïve and angry, often unsociable, but highly idealistic, she felt so real. Right from the beginning we know she wants to prove to her boss she can do the job and that’s why her desperation to help her charges, felt so realistic and it led to a connection with her and her story. The writer helped us to understand her greatest fear was failure and made me care that that she did not become another victim of a deranged killer. I will leave you to find out if she did, but throughout the novel, I felt constantly anxious about her fate. There is one scene in which she is alone with a ‘client’ in a secluded cottage that had me a bag of nerves, so thick was the tension and sense of menace.
It is well written by an author that really understands how to make the landscape it is set in another character in the story. I have never been to the Somerset Levels, but as I read the book, I felt I could have been. The sense of isolation created was a massive part of why the book worked so well. The small community at the heart of the story and the dramatic landscape that surround it, all added to the sense of remoteness from help and safety. The concealment of past mistakes and feuds, amplified by this brooding and threatening landscape the story is set in.
Apart from Alex there are many other fascinating characters, but I wanted to say a massive thank you for giving us the portrayal of a prison officer, who is intelligent, proactive and kind. It is such a change from the usual portrayal of thuggish men, who are just caretakers and not great ones at that. It made the book extra special that for once, there was a positive portrait of a unfairly maligned part of the justice system.
Will it stay with me for a while. Indeed it will. I loved the story and all the characters who seemed as much a part of the landscape as the players in the mystery around the Death of the Elver Man. It had all the elements of a great thriller, but it’s originality marked it out as a really enjoyable and exciting.
You can purchase this novel from Amazon
The Morecambe & Vice Crime Writing Festival is taking place between Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th of September at the Midlands Hotel in Morecambe.
Why not take a look at their website because they have a cracking line-up of events ~ https://www.morecambecrimefest.co.uk/
About the author
I did not expect to be a crime writer. Although I have always read a lot of crime and detective novels I always thought my work leaned more towards science fiction or horror so no-one was more surprised than I when “Death of the Elver Man” was short-listed for the Impress Prize in 2010 under its original (and rather insipid) title “On the Level”. Since its publication I have been working on the series which now consists of “The Drowners”, (published in January 2013), “The Mothman” (September 2014) and “Smoke and Adders” (September 2016). I am exploring the idea of writing some shorter, stand-alone stories based around specific characters from the novels. Ada Mallory will probably feature in the first but if there are specific people you would like to read about, please visit my web page http://www.jenniefinch.me.uk and leave a request.
Whilst I was never a probation officer like Alex I do live with an ex-probation officer and in the 1980s did a lot of work with offenders and young people at risk. I used to teach psychology for the Open University and still assess and tutor students and young people with learning difficulties.
You can follow the author at https://www.jenniefinch.me.uk/