REVIEWED BY ANN QUINTON
Ruth Dugdall (Thomas & Mercer: 2018)
Felixstowe based author Ruth Dugdall
has successfully published seven novels amongst them The Sacrificial Man, Humber Boy B and The Woman Before Me, which won the 2005 CWA Debut Dagger Award. The majority of these stories involve probation officer Cate Austin, a character inspired by Ruth’s earlier career in the probation service and in particular her time at the Carlford Unit of Hollesley Bay Prison which used to house young prisoners. Ruth’s latest novel The Things You Didn’t See (Thomas and Mercer: 2018), set in rural Suffolk, is partly inspired by Trinity College Cambridge’s attempts, in recent years, to sell Innocence Farm near Kirton, to the Port Of Felixstowe to develop a lorry park for 3,000 vehicles. The novel was originally to be entitled Innocence Lane, a by-way which links the A12 with the road from Kirton to Trimley St Martin. It’s worth noting that in 2020 the lawn at Trinity College was dug up in protest at the college’s attempts to sell the farm and that planning permission for the project was refused in 2020.
Ruth’s novel, which I enjoyed very much, starts with a flashback. It is Halloween and a group of lads, with a young sister in tow, are waiting in a supposedly haunted barn for a ghost to manifest itself. A white figure appears and a shot rings out as one of the lads produces a gun. The white figure drops to the ground but was it a ghost. This sets the scene for the entire book; nothing is as it seems.
Fast forward to Halloween twenty years later. Maya, the owner of Innocence Farm, the neighbouring property, is lying in the hallway shot, a rifle beside her. It looks like a suicide attempt but Cassandra, her daughter doesn’t believe this although the police appear satisfied. Holly, a trainee paramedic, is at the scene and recognises Cass from their childhood and they form a close bond. But has Holly an ulterior motive in the support she gives Cass and does she find out about Cass’s troubled past.
Hector, Maya’s husband, is devastated by what has happened and Daniel, Cass’s lover and a Reiki healer, is always on hand. But is he a charlatan and his claims to heal cancer patients, including Maya, a big scam?
The farm, situated in a valuable position on the edge of the village, is at the centre of the controversy. Cass and Daniel want to set up a health clinic, the nearby Port Authority want to use the land as a lorry park, and Hector just wants to go on farming with the support of his housekeeper Janet and her son Ash, who would be made homeless and out of work if alternative plans go ahead. What decision has Maya made on the farm’s future and what happens if she dies? The reader is led through a complex plot during which every character becomes suspect in turn and involved in a conspiracy that ends with a shocking denouement.
I have met Ruth Dugdall and she is a woman rightly confident in her ability as a writer and assiduous in promoting and publicising her work.
Between 1985 and 2002 Suffolk writer Ann Quinton (b.1934) published eleven mystery/crime novels. Six of these books, To Mourn a Mischief (1989), Death Of a Dear Friend (1990), A Fatal End (1992), The Sleeping and the Dead (1994), A Little Grave (1994) and Some Foul Play (1996), were set in or around her home village of Kirton, and all involved Detective Inspector James Roland and his colleague, Sergeant Patrick Mansfield. The tone of their professional relationship is well setup in the first story, To Mourn a Mischief, which is based on a true story and involves the excavation of a German World War II plane near the village of Croxton (loosely based on Kirton). Not based on real events is the discovery of a more recent body which throws the village into turmoil. All of Ann’s novels are well written and although out of print are worth chasing up.