The Wounded Snake (2019) by Fay Sampson

A multitude of prospective crime writers have gathered at Morland Abbey, a stunning 14th century edifice-turned-conference centre for a writing course, hoping the atmosphere and company will spark the creative flame. The highlight is Diana Morland, crime writer extraordinare – but after she gives her opening talk, she falls mysteriously ill.

Friends Hilary Masters and Veronica Taylor are suspicious, especially as someone was snooping around Morland’s room that afternoon. But when there is a shocking murder, it seems as if someone has decided to forego intellectual inspiration for their novel and try something more practical instead.

As ever, I like to dip my toe into the modern crime fiction genre every other book or so, and I rather liked the look of this one. It’s got the feel of a traditional setting, although there are significantly more attendees on the course that one might expect in a Golden Age version and it’s a very enjoyable, easy read.

Hilary – the entire novel is from her point of view – is good company, a well-constructed character. The retired ex-teacher works very well in this setting, not leaping in with mad theories, but taking an altogether more considered approach to solving the crime. It’s almost a shame that there is a need for her husband to show up to offer support, but it does feel natural, rather than being put across as if she needs a man’s help. What is a bit disappointing is a few chapters where Hilary becomes jealous of her husband and Veronica, for no real reason, a sub-plot that just fizzles into nothingness. The local geography and history is used well, to give a sense of place to the story, rather than just being set… somewhere.

The mystery is interesting, although a central part of “who could be doing all these things?” isn’t considered until quite late – again, maybe I’ve just read too many mysteries – and I’d have preferred the circle of suspects to have been a bit more developed. There is a big focus on a few characters for the opening investigation which is almost like putting a sign on them saying “Not The Murderer” – because the alternative is that one of the few is the murderer and it’s all a bit obvious. There is a clever solution here, but I did think the behaviour of one character in particular seemed rather extreme – there are much easier ways to achieve their goals.

So, a fun read – as I often say, I may well be back for more in the future.

Availability: It’s out now in hardback and will be out as an ebook at the start of April. Many thanks to Severn House for the review copy.

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