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by James Brownley
Severn House, March 2009
247 pages
10.99 GBP
ISBN: 184751040X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Alison Glasby is a journalist on the Sunday Herald desperately hoping to be given her chance at 'real' stories rather than the rather fluffy features which have come her way to date. A chance arises when she is called on to assist with the coverage of the death of Leonie Dellar. Leonie, along with her partner Brian Jarmie, was convicted of the murder of four children in Norfolk in 1969. The only journalist to whom she had ever spoken was Bill Davenport of the Herald. Davenport is now very close to retirement so Alison and her noxious colleague Joe Daniels are assigned to help him with coverage of Leonie's death. Alison gets the less than plum job of going to the prison where Dellar died, but with some ingenuity wrangles a look at her possessions. There she finds and takes a picture on her mobile of a photograph of one of the victims, Donna Bacon, which somehow doesn't fit in with what Alison has read. She commences an investigation in which only her own stubbornness and ambition drive her on to reveal a long-buried truth.

I reviewed Brownley's second book in the Glasby series (THE SINS OF THE CHILDREN) here in February, but the publishers appear to have now re-issued this first book. The problem with A PICTURE OF GUILT is that is suffers from first-novelitis; it wants to make too much of a splash and Brownley takes on a subject which is more than he can handle. A nationally famous series of child murders - this is not only the sort of subject which many, much better, writers have tackled; it also demands enormous skill. Now in his second book the story and plot are much more inconsequential; it is a 'lightweight affair' as I said in my review, but succeeds because it is told at a rip-roaring pace and keeps one completely involved. Nothing truly memorable but very highly competent entertainment. I did however indicate that a couple of passages suggested that Brownley was capable of something more than this. And now I am criticising him for precisely attempting too much! Well it's a critics prerogative to be self-contradictory. But I would say he should play to his strength - which is writing a cracking tale - and gradually work in and develop his more serious side. It was certainly a mistake to start in the way he has here.

On a more positive note it is worth adding that Alison is quite an interesting protagonist - she can be very annoying at times and Brownley does not dodge the clash between her rather naked ambition and the competing claims of morality and compassion. This incompatibility is much the best part of A PICTURE OF GUILT.

All in all however I think that I would probably recommend people read in the order I did - start with the second book, which is a rollicking entertainment, and then come back to the first if you are interested enough, or wait and see what Brownley does next. A PICTURE OF GUILT is basically a bad case of first-novelitis which fortunately has been worked out by the time of the second in the series - but it is, after all, better to see a writer progress rather than the reverse!

Reviewed by Nick Hay, June 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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