Falling Into Crime, by Penny Grubb: #BookReview.

798 pages

Thrillers/Private Investigator Mysteries/Murder Fiction

This collection of crime novels puts together the first three books in the Annie Raymond series: Like False Money, The Doll Makers, and The Jawbone Gang. For those unfamiliar with the writing of Penny Grubb, I will simply say, ‘You’re missing out on some very good crime writing.’

Having read all of these books when they were first published, I was intrigued to see what the author had done in presenting them as a set. The slight additional editing and fillers have enhanced the experience of reading them again. I was every bit as engaged the second time as I was the first, in spite of knowing what happened in each story.

I feel I can best complete this review by adding here the separate reviews I wrote for those first reads, since the words I then wrote apply equally today.

Like False Money:

Some crime novels are intriguing puzzles begging for solution, some are sensitive character studies describing the relationship of investigator to crime and perpetrator, and some are fast-paced action stories packed with incident and threat. Penny Grubb, in Like False Money, has blended all three in one fascinating novel.

The heroine, Annie, a woman with balls, takes on her first cases with few expectations, learning she has been employed more as nursemaid than private investigator. The complex web of relationships surrounding the agency weave through the story, forming obstacles that Annie could do without as her investigations reveal convolutions she only suspects at first.

Penny lays plenty of traps for her heroine and for the reader, feeding the fascination. Only at the denouement does all become clear, exactly as it should in such fiction. But this is no Poirot-like disposition. Annie has to work out the twists and turns and make sense of the misinformation, lies, half-truths and tricks as she wrestles to save her life.

The victims, witnesses, clients, agency staff and police contacts are all very real people. Some you would meet on the streets of the city of Hull every day, some in the villages and on the coast of rural East Yorkshire, some you would hope never to meet face to face. The locations are as much members of the cast as the people in this story of self-discovery, murder, deception and misunderstanding.

Penny supplies the reader with facts, theories and puzzles, slowly revealing the plot with clues for those astute enough to spot them. But the solutions to the interwoven mysteries are unexpected and, in the case of the murder, breath-taking and ultimately inevitable.

The novel starts with gentle intrigues, in-fighting and political games played by those with hidden motives, but develops into a cliff-hanger, almost literally.

Contrasting the urban environment with the rural, Penny explores motives, sub-texts and ambitions to show that location need not be the formative influence it is often considered. Here, it is the people and their personalities that direct cause and effect, acting out their parts sometimes despite their whereabouts. This novel surprises, entertains, scares and satisfies in equal measure and I heartily recommend it.

The Doll Makers:

I met the wonderfully idiosyncratic heroine, Annie Raymond, in Penny’s first detective novel, Like False Money, and enjoyed her doubts, courage and intelligence there. In The Doll Makers, Annie travels from her new post in London to visit her father in Scotland, and Penny Grubb highlights the contrasts between the noise and claustrophobia of the capital and the space and relative peace of a small Scottish loch-side town.

The story holds the reader’s interest from the start and keeps a tight grip on it to the last word. Penny has a way of getting inside the heads and hearts of her characters to bring them to life. Even her villains carry characteristics that make the reader care what happens. But it is Annie who we really empathise with, despite her faults, irritabilities, occasional snap judgements and chaotic domestic lifestyle, or maybe because of these. Her quick wits, intelligence, bravery and determination drive the story, with its multiple threads, racing us from chapter to chapter, anxious to know what happens next and eager to identify the real villains amongst the panoply of potential candidates.

There are surprises, shocks and moments of sudden illumination in the twists and turns of the plot so that it becomes difficult to put the book down. I was forced by circumstances to read the book in two sessions but would have read from beginning to end without interruption had it been possible. Such is the developing pace of the story that the reader becomes emotionally engaged in the ever more complex puzzles that lead Annie into great peril.

The reader is given clues denied the detective and this makes for tension as we see her stepping toward dangers we know of but to which she is blind. Clues are scattered throughout the narrative for the reader to solve the puzzles, but the solution is not easy and I was surprised by the denouement, though it was, in the end, the only possible outcome.

Penny handles scenes of danger particularly well, injecting feelings of fear, anxiety and doubt into the story so that the reader is drawn into the created world. Her meticulous research takes us inside real buildings with Annie, along real streets and into real woodland with her, to perilous drops where we hold our breath and into peaceful glades, where we rest for a while as she ruminates.

The Doll Makers is not simply a damned good read, it is an experience shared with the indomitable Annie as she moves through curiosity, incomprehension, disappointment, betrayal and growing enlightenment to a conclusion that is scary, intense and inevitable. If you enjoy your crime spiced with a mixture of gritty realism, humour, human failings and intelligence, this is definitely a book for you. I don’t read much crime fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it.

The Jawbone Gang:

The Jawbone Gang, the third crime novel by Penny Grubb to feature her P.I, Annie, brings more insight into the complex character of this Scot, working in the city of Hull and the surrounding East Riding of Yorkshire for this story. Penny’s familiarity with the area and some of its less well-known parts, adds detail to the text, as she has her sleuth investigate, work and relax.

The plot of the novel takes on unexpected twists, with secondary characters and events weaving complexity into the story.

Penny deals with real life issues in her detective series, eschewing gloss and glamour to give her readers insights into experiences closer to home. Her descriptions entertain with their detailed vibrancy and her characters leave the page as real people. She builds tension convincingly and the air of menace that prevails on her protagonist at key moments is skilfully contrasted with more basic daily worries assailing Annie as she attempts to modernise the agency despite the complacency and indolence of her bosses.

The denouement is expertly handled, with the near chaos of a local event acting as both background and pivot to a conclusion that has the reader turning the pages to discover the outcome.

If you haven’t read any of Penny’s crime novels, I urge you to do so. And, if you have, you’ll find The Jawbone Gang as intriguing and enthralling as the other two.  

[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]