Priscilla Masters has featured in this blog several times before. She’s possibly a little less well known than other friends of mine of roughly the same generation- the likes of Ann Cleeves, Kate Ellis and Cath Staincliffe spring to mind – but she’s a consistent and entertaining writer, and her latest book, A Velvet Scream, marks the return of her premier series character, DI Joanna Piercy. It is, in fact, Joanna’s tenth appearance.
One of the strengths of Cilla’s books is that they have a distinctive sense of place – her territory is the Shropshire/Staffordshire border, where she has lived for many years. It’s not a famous or even unusually dramatic part of the country, although Ellis Peters set her Cadfael stories not far away, but it’s certainly attractive and interesting area, and this book evokes the local scene well.
A teenage girl is found in a bad way in the snow outside a nightclub in Leek. It seems a rapist is at work in the quiet town. Joanna is called in, but the girl’s story appears to have a number of holes. A comparable case that occurred six months earlier comes to light, serving to complicate the picture. The solution to the mystery makes good use of the author’s medical knowledge – she continues to work as a part-time nurse.
In some ways, Cilla Masters’ novels remind me of many that appeared under that long-established and highly successful imprint, Collins Crime Club. They are short, snappy and full of believable characters - not just Joanna, but the supporting cast as well. So many bestsellers today are twice as long – but that doesn’t mean they are twice as good. Life is short, and I have to say that a book like this one, that I can read reasonably quickly, has a lot to commend it. But it’s not just a question of length and concision. A Velvet Scream is not just a good title, it is a good book.