The Last Dance (by Sally Quilford)

I always like to have something to read on my Kindle while I’m eating breakfast, or at odd moments when out and about. Sometimes I read classics, sometimes non-fiction, and sometimes novellas - short novels, offered inexpensively or sometimes (for short periods) free in ebook form. I have particularly enjoyed several of Sally Quilford’s novellas, so was pleased when I was able to download this one a few months ago.

‘The Last Dance’ is a crime fiction story set in 1960. We meet Bobbie (Roberta) Blandford, a young woman who has just finished her training as a policewoman. Inevitably, given the era, she is going to meet some discrimination, some condescension from male colleagues who think they are better than she is, and some downright hostility. And indeed, her first few days in the village of Stony End are fraught with problems.

We first see Bobbie managing to stop a runaway car, only to invoke the ire of a good-looking but angry doctor called Leo on his way to an emergency. Bobbie meets Annabel, another doctor, who becomes her landlady (and close friend) and gradually, in the first chapter, we learn a great deal about her and her reasons for joining the police force.

Bobbie finds that the her immediate boss, the sergeant in the police force, is somewhat dour but essentially kind-hearted, and one or two of the other officers are fatherly and friendly. But she really doesn’t take to young Peter Porter, the only policeman about her age. Before long an unusual murder is committed and Bobbie is frustrated to be kept on the desk, or making tea, rather than having any part in the investigation.

There are several threads in this story, nicely interwoven. There’s the obvious issue of women starting to work in what used to be a man’s world, something that’s addressed more than once as Bobbie has to work doubly hard to have her achievements and intelligence accepted. She has a lot of questions about her father, too; he was also a police officer, but was killed when she was quite young, while on duty.

She doesn’t know what to think about Leo, the doctor, either; sometimes he seems kind and she starts to fall for him; other times he’s distant and abrupt. She learns something about him that starts her asking a lot of difficult questions, and looking into the past; she is warned off by someone else.

Then there’s another unpleasant incident. And yet more revelations come to light.

The writing, as with all Sally Quilford’s work, is good; the characters come to life, the conversations are believable, and the pace, I thought, just right with a good balance of description and action. The historical context feels believable, if a tad over-researched here and there, but even that minor quibble isn’t a serious one. The story is written in the first person, and in places Bobbie, as an elderly woman in the 21st century, makes comments on the past with considerable hindsight. It could have been a little annoying, but somehow it works.

I had guessed most of the end of the story, including the final exposition of ‘who dun it’ towards the end, although I hadn’t expected one dramatic incident in the climax. But that didn’t matter; this isn’t Agatha Christie with a careful trail of false clues and an unexpected resolution. It’s character-driven crime fiction, with a low-key romance included. There is a sequel already which I look forward to reading at some point.

Definitely recommended. It’s inexpensively available for the Kindle, and makes a good light read for those who enjoy this kind of non-gory light crime fiction.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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