A Murder Inside (2021) by Frances Brody

1969 and Nell Lewis is beginning a job that will change her life. As governor of HMP Brackerley in Yorkshire, she is charged with transforming it into a modern open prison for women. As she begins her work at the formal borstal, with some prisoners finishing their terms remaining, along with some beginning their sentences, her plans are thrown into disarray when the former governor is found dead.

As people begin to disappear, it seems that there are dark deeds afoot at HMP Brackerley. Unwilling to assume that the police will be able to find the truth, Nell is determined to get to the bottom of things before her dream job becomes a nightmare.

OK, first of all, ignore the Amazon blurb describing this as “the perfect locked room page-turner”. Nothing of the sort. “Page-turner” is correct, but the only locked rooms in the prisons are the cells and the murder doesn’t take place in one of those. But to be fair, that bit of blurb isn’t on the cover of the book.

Next of all, an apology to Frances Brody, who sent me a copy. This has been out for a couple of months but I had a lot on my plate. When I picked it up, I read half of it… and then COVID hit. Now COVID didn’t prevent me from reading, apart from a few days at the height of it, but the problem was that I was locked down – and I’d left the book at school, where I couldn’t go for a fortnight or so! So I read this in two distinct chunks. To the book’s credit, there are many, many books where I would have needed to have speed-read the first half again to remind myself who was what and what was going on, but that wasn’t the case. Frances has created a clearly defined set of characters and I had no problem picking up where I left off.

After twelve Kate Shackleton books, this is the start of a new series for Frances. I’ve no idea whether the plan is to alternate series at this point, or whether Kate has had her final hurrah, but this series definitely has potential and I look forward to how it develops – although how many murders one can have inside a prison before it gets shut down, I guess we’ll find out.

As for the plot of this one, there are a few different strands to it, notably the story of Linda, one of the new inmates, which looks like it might continue into the series. The mystery itself is fine, although the solution is delivered in a very matter-of-fact way – I was expecting another beat to that plot which never arrived. However had a twist appeared at the last minute, it would have detracted from the realism that Frances imbues the narrative with, so it is probably best that it never arrived.

So, apologies again to Frances for the delay on this review. Many thanks for the review copy.

A Murder Inside was published on 28th October by Piatkus/Little Brown.

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