Sitting Murder by A.J. Wright #BookReview

With a myriad of motives, the question is who?
Detective Sergeant Michael Brennan of the Wigan Borough Police has no time for tales of ghosts and the afterlife, or of the dead contacting the living. 
So, when he finds himself investigating the case of a recently widowed young woman, Alice Goodway, who has suddenly developed ‘the Gift’ of mediumship and has received a threatening letter, he embarks on the inquiry with no small degree of scepticism.
But just as Brennan and his burly colleague, Constable Jaggery, consider how to proceed with the case, something much more sinister takes place… a murder, in Alice’s own home.
Who would commit such a crime?
Could it be one of the seven ‘visitors’ who had been to sittings with Alice and not liked what they had heard?
Or the interfering and sanctimonious Inspector of Nuisances who strongly disapproved of the séances?
There are a lot of old wounds opened and painful memories shared with Brennan and Jaggery as they meticulously gather the information they need to solve the case. The challenge will be narrowing down the suspects, using clues from both the living and the dead…
This devilishly plotted Victorian whodunnit keeps the reader guessing right to the end, with red herrings aplenty scattered along the way.

Many thanks to Lauren Easey of Endeavour Media for inviting me to read Sitting Murder and for my copy of the novel.

Most of the crime novels I read are set in the present day or at least within living memory so it was a real treat to settle down with a book by a contemporary author who has set his plot in Victorian times, particularly as historical fiction is my other preferred genre.
The prologue immediately recalls the hard lives of the working class back then as a young woman sits by her dying husband's bedside. A victim of another mining disaster, Jack Goodway at least manages to say his last words to his wife, Alice and to seek his peace from his priest before passing away. Shortly after his death, Alice starts holding sittings as she brings messages from beyond the grave to her friends and neighbours who are desperate to find some peace following losses of their own.
Although set far from the country houses of Agatha Christie's books, Sitting Murder bears many similarities to her books albeit with a layer of coal dust and the chill of cold, foggy Lancashire nights. The cast of characters are introduced before the murder takes place so we already know our suspects. While not a closed room mystery as such, it's immediately apparent that the perpetrator is most likely one of the attendees of Alice Goodway's sittings. As with Christie's novels, the detectives investigating the case are also already involved - Detective Sergeant Michael Brennan and Constable Jaggery have been called to Alice's house after she is sent a threatening letter. So the scene is set for a thoroughly enjoyable old-fashioned whodunnit which may be slower paced that many modern crime novels but which rewards its readers by the way of the stories within a story as each of the suspects reveal their reasons for needing to seek Alice's help.
Each of these stories are absorbing in their own right and expanded would make wonderful books of their own. Obviously I'm not going to give anything away but examples of the tales within include one character obsessed by a figure from their past, another whose daughter was lost long before her death, and the whole novel is teeming with dark secrets and desperate guilt. There are some delicious touches of humour here too, not least from Brennan's chief constable, Captain Bell. The exchanges between the two men are frequently a sheer delight. The relationship between Brennan and Constable Jaggery is the real highlight though; Brennan, the sceptic who frequently bears an air of irritation at the susceptibility of others but whose rather gruff exterior belies a sensitive, intuitive man, and Jaggery the more hot-headed of the pair who wears his heart on his sleeve, is more inclined to believe the dead can contact the living and would far rather sit by the fire with a slice of cake than tramp the bitterly cold streets. They are a rather disparate pair, frequently annoyed by what they see as the other's shortcomings but there is a sense of respect and loyalty between them that is perhaps best illustrated in the rather touching epilogue.
Sitting Murder actually the fourth book in A.J. Wright's Lancashire Detective Mystery series but each is written as a standalone book. This is the first I have read but I will definitely be reading the previous novels now. Snowy days and foggy nights evoke an atmospheric sense of place as Victorian Wigan is vividly brought to life, the cast of characters are clearly described with each having their own distinct voice and the mystery itself is a real puzzle with plenty of twists and red herrings to enjoy before the killer is finally revealed. Sitting Murder is an absolute joy of a book which combines an intriguing plot with sterling characterisation and real charm, I thoroughly recommend it.

Sitting Murder is published by Endeavour Ink and can be purchased here.

About the Author

A. J. Wright has been shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award and won the Dundee International Fiction Prize for Act of Murder. Striking Murder has been longlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger. He lives in Croston in Lancashire.
He can be followed on Twitter as @awright51