The In Crowd by Charlotte Vassell: a clever concoction of crime fiction – book review –

The In Crowd by Charlotte Vassell: book reviewThe In Crowd by Charlotte Vassell: book review
The In Crowd by Charlotte Vassell: book review
The discovery of a woman’s body floating face down in the Thames is just the start of a police investigation that will open up two cold cases.

With a two-pronged missing persons mystery to solve – and the romantic frissons of a new relationship bringing a welcome distraction – Detective Inspector Caius Beauchamp will need all the help he can get from his trusty murder investigation team.

If you like your crime mysteries to have all the complex detective work and exquisitely drawn characters of Agatha Christie, but with an original and insightful voice, an acidly satirical edge, and a decidedly 21st century vibe, then treat yourself to the second of Charlotte Vassell’s fun, original and entertaining whodunit series.

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And after the runaway success of her debut novel, The Other Half, Vassell delivers another gripping, high-energy police procedural mystery set within a London super-rich and powerful milieu in which only a chosen few born into staggering wealth can comfortably exist, and which is pretty much unimaginable to the ‘oiks’ who live on the other side of the class divide.

It’s a tale of two worlds rubbing shoulders, full of wickedly incisive social commentary, plenty of twists and turns, and a cast of goodies and baddies that could only have been conjured up by a writer who also trained to tread the boards.

On the last Saturday in August, politicos, socialites and other members of the in crowd are trading tidbits of gossip and sips of Pimm’s under the tasteful bunting of a Richmond garden party. They would never guess that the police are just a stone’s throw away, pulling a body out of the river Thames.

A men’s rowing team discovered the body and the drowning appears to be a tragic accident until Detective Caius Beauchamp gets an unexpected tip. It seems the victim, Lynne Rodgers, had enemies in high places, so did being on the wrong side of them get her killed?

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Many years before, the chief executive of a clothing manufacturer walked off with a multi-million dollar corporate retirement fund and disappeared without a trace. But finding Lynne’s body has reopened that cold case.

Meanwhile, Caius has his own evening at the theatre – and an auspicious meeting with beautiful young society milliner Calliope (Callie) Foster – turned upside down by the discovery of a dead body just a few seats away. Martin Hartley was an amateur sleuth who was investigating the mysterious disappearance two decades ago of Eliza Chapel, a 14-year-old student at a girls’ boarding school in Cornwall. It means a second cold case will have to be reopened.

As Caius – along with his chirpy fellow officers, DS Matt Cheung and DC Amy Noakes – investigates these parallel missing persons cases, he soon finds himself ensnared in the unexpected political machinations of a duke-in-waiting, and the fully expected bad behaviour of London’s rich and powerful upper class.

Vassell’s addictive murder mystery plunges readers into a world of haves and have nots as she explores some of high society’s dark and rancid corners whilst fearlessly puncturing the pretensions, entitlement and conceit of the British class system, and exquisitely nailing the faux manners and mores of the filthy rich.

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And what a clever, complex story of tangled secrets, privilege, excess and corruption this is, unfolding seamlessly through the sharpest writing and an entertaining blend of descriptive language, lively dialogue and an irresistible brand of sardonic humour.

Alternating between the perspectives of the thoroughly likeable and very moral Caius and the delightful new-girl-on-the block-Callie, The In Crowd is both caustically funny and refreshingly different, serving up familiar tropes like red herrings, intriguing suspects and plot twists with wit, style and moments of unexpected high emotion.

Add on a team of charismatic detectives with a fine line in banter and you have a clever concoction of crime fiction with a side serving of satire!

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £16.99)

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