I’ve always been fascinated by the more remote coastal resorts of England such as those found in East Anglia and the more remote parts of Kent. Cromer, Southwold, Broadstairs, Whitstable – these places are loaded with atmosphere with their tarred fishing huts, little cafés where a few customers huddle over mugs of tea and their remote beaches so suitable for windy winter walks.
Frances Fyfield lives in such a place – Deal in Kent, and a few of her books have been full of impressions from these coastal communities. Of course, the reader can’t be too specific as to the exact location of her complex mystery novels, but I’m pretty sure we are back in Deal here, a place we grew to know so intimately in her earlier novel Undercurrents.
In Gold Digger we read of Thomas Porteous, an elderly art-collector who takes up with a young “waif and stray” Di Quigley, a girl from a troubled family who tried to burgle him when she was 17. Thomas sent her art books while she was in prison and when she came out, they got together and despite a huge age difference they developed a deep affinity leading to an unlikely marriage. Although separated by a considerable number of years, the two are true soul-mates, united in a love for abandoned and forgotten paintings which they reclaim from obscurity and give favoured wall-space to in Thomas’s rambling sea-side home.
But to Thomas’s grasping family, who live in hope of an inheritance, a young woman like Di can only be a gold-digger with an eye for the main chance. They are blind to Di’s devotion to Thomas and her meticulour care of him in his declining years. She is a private person who hides her grief when he eventually passes away – perhaps a more demonstrative sobbing would have been more in her interests, but her apparent ability to pick up her life and carry on arouses suspicion in the minds of those who want to see criminality where there was actually only love.
I’ve been reading Frances Fyfield’s books for years now and I believe she’s up there with Ruth Rendell and P D James as the trio of top British “literary” crime-writers. By “literary” I mean writers who’s books would stand up in as very well-written whether or not they were in the “crime” category. What I like about Frances Fyfield is that she focuses on character and locations, the crime almost coming as an afterthought. She never starts her books with some violent incident to grab the reader’s attention, but tells human stories and lets them develop naturally so that the criminal acts almost creep up on you. She takes a great deal of care in developing her wide-range of characters and in Gold Digger it is a delight to observer Thomas and Di’s eccentric life together in the rambling old house which Thomas inherited years ago, stuffed full of paintings old and new.
Fyfield has great fun with her portrayal of Thomas’s two daughters who turn out to be a venomous pair and together with one of their husbands form an unholy trinity, determined to play as dirty as they can to retrieve what they have lost in their father’s will. The trio are the pantomime villains of the book and the reader is left wondering how poor Di can ever away from their plans to disinherit her.
The pleasure in this book lies in the atmosphere Fyfield creates in this small coastal town. It is almost a world of its own, a bubble of eccentricity, which the two daughters seem determine to prick in order to get their way. But Di also has her sinister side and the reader rapidly discovers that there is going to be a titanic battle of wills with no holds barred in the conduct of the engagement.
There are many twists and turns along the way and I only put this book down when I had to, returning to it with a sense of keen anticipation to see what happened next. As with all good books, the characters live on in the mind after you’ve finished it.
I’ve spent a few hours over the holiday redesigning this website and hope my readers like the clean, uncluttered look. Reducing the number of columns from three to two should make the site work better on tablets and other mobile devices. It should also load a little quicker.
I am abandoning my Amazon associateship which I’ve been trialling for the last three months and I am returning to Book Depository which offers the same pricing as Amazon with automatic free postage. If you purchase any books from a link on this site I get a very small amount of money which I use to defray the cost of hosting this site.
I thank all those who read my thoughts on books and keep coming back for more and I wish you all a very happy new year.