Monday, 14 March 2011

Frozen Charlotte

The work of a coroner is sensitive, socially important, and often challenging. It is also, to my way of thinking, absolutely fascinating. A great many crime writers have, over the years, featured coroners and inquests in their work, and I did myself in Waterloo Sunset, the most recent Harry Devlin novel. I was given a great deal of help with my research by two Liverpool-based coroners, and talking to them left me in considerable admiration at the way in which they did their work. Dealing with the bereaved is never easy, and it seems to me but one of the most important personal qualities that any corner can have is a strong sense of empathy.

There is no doubt that Priscilla Masters' regular character, the Shropshire coroner Martha Gunn, has the necessary attributes, and they are called upon again in her third and latest outing, Frozen Charlotte. This novel opens in striking fashion, with the arrival of a woman at the Accident and Emergency department of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital one cold winter's night. The woman brings with her a baby, but when a nurse takes a look, she shocked and revolted to find that the child is mummified.

From this chilling beginning, Priscilla Masters fashions another of her well-constructed mysteries. As ever with this author, the characters are carefully delineated, and Martha's personal life again features significantly, but without detracting from the development of the story. The believability of the background derives from Priscilla Masters' knowledge of her subject. She happens to work part-time as a nurse at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and in an author's note at the end of the book, she describes how she first encountered the porcelain dolls known as Frozen Charlottes.

With this book, Cilla Masters has moved to a new publisher, Severn House, but as usual she has produced an entertaining and highly readable mystery. I've mentioned before, but possibly should declare again, that Cilla is a friend of mine, but I really do think that she is an under-estimated writer, and I very much hope that this book brings her the wider recognition her novels deserve.


Anonymous said...

Martin - You're quite right about how important - and how sensitive - the coroner's job really is. And I'm glad that Masters brings her own background into her writing. I think that lends a sense of authenticity to the work.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

"Frozen Charlotte" sounds like a treat. Great review, Martin. I'll look for the book.

Dorte H said...

Her series sounds interesting. I must have read other novels featuring coroners, but the only one I remember on the spur of the moment is M.R. Hall´s fantastic "The Coroner". I found it especially intriguing because we don´t have coroners in Denmark.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, you are spot on about the use of background.
Elizabeth, yes, I think you will enjoy her work.
Dorte, you will get a chance to meet her at Bristol, I'm sure.

Paul Beech said...

Hi Martin, you certainly have some great crime writer friends! I really enjoy Ann Cleeves, Stuart Pawson and Kate Ellis. And after your review of ‘Frozen Charlotte’ yesterday, I just had to get my hands on something by Priscilla Masters. I was lucky enough to find ‘Slipknot’ at the library, her second Martha Gunn. It looks terrific but I’d better save it until I’ve finished the novel I’m halfway through as it never works for me to have two mysteries on the go at the same time. No prob reading a mystery alongside a different sort of book though. As it happens, the novel I’m halfway through is ‘Waterloo Sunset’, which I find perfectly complimented by Philip Larkin’s ‘Letters to Monica’!

‘Waterloo’ is the first of your Liverpool novels I’ve tried, Martin, and I’m blown away. Harry Devlin is such a great character. I love all the little shafts of wit. Victor Creevey – “he might have been a cryogenically unfrozen Dr Crippen.” Harry’s balcony scene has just had me in stitches! It’s all a world away from your brilliant Lake District series…or is it?

Different location and characters but same world perhaps? Have you ever thought about doing a series crossover novel – Harry in The Lakes or Daniel and Hannah in The Pool? Peter Lovesey and John Harvey have both had characters from one series appear in another. One thing for sure, Harry is too good to be allowed to fade away. (He’d work well in first person too, don’t you think?)

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into ‘Slipknot’!

Regards, Paul

aguja said...

What a fantastic title for a book. I, too, shall look out for it. Your review makes the book enticing and coroner's work intrigues me. Cilla Masters - I shall remember that name.

Martin Edwards said...

Paul, I'm extremely fortunate in my friends, that's for sure.
I'm delighted you like Waterloo Sunset, a book I loved writing. I'd like to bring Harry back one day - maybe in the Lakes?!