An editor investigates a murder in the art world

I first discovered Judith Flanders via her non-fiction writing. Her book Circle of Sisters is about a family in the Victorian era where the daughters all marry artistic or prominent men or give birth to them and who become influential in social change. Her book The Victorian Home is about how various rooms in the house were used in past times – I review it here. I was, therefore, interested when I found that she had also written a series of detective novels. A Bed of Scorpions is the second in the series of four and I have also read the first, A Murder of Magpies. These are set in modern times, in London, and the main character, Sam Clair, is an editor at a publishing house.

As anyone who has read previous postings on this blog will know I do enjoy a good mystery/crime/suspense novel and I read a variety of different types. This series falls towards the cosy end of the market and is definitely not gory although there are, of course, murders for Sam to contend with in addition to her day job.

The author obviously knows about publishing in the modern era and the book is full of details of how books are bought, produced and marketed. As a reader I find this sort of thing very interesting and the author is careful not to let too much background detail get in the way of the plot. Sam is well respected, intelligent and competent at her job. She lives in a flat in London and by this second book has become attached to a police officer who she met in the first book of the series. He too is competent and they seem to have a relationship without drama. This makes a pleasant change from most crime stories where the characters carry around tremendous trauma and angst from difficult childhoods and dreadful events in their past. Sam’s job, living conditions and relationships are settled but she does seem frequently to encounter murder.

In A Bed of Scorpions an ex-lover of Sam’s contacts her when his business partner is murdered. Their business is in art where they run a gallery and represent modern artists. Sam gets involved in trying to find out who the murderer is while her boyfriend is also investigating on behalf of the police. Clues are followed up and then Sam finds herself in danger but in the end everything is brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

What sets this book apart from the large number of crime novels on the market is the writing which is witty and the character of Sam who is sharp witted, intelligent and sarcastic without being mean. The books are light but very enjoyable with plenty of clues sprinkled along the way but the odd twist or turn the reader doesn’t necessarily foresee. I have really enjoyed these books and intend to read the whole series. I also think that the covers on the books I own are among the more attractive I’ve seen recently.

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