A Conflict of Interests

Written by Claire Gradidge
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

Romsey, Hampshire, 1944: in this third novel in Gradidge’s Josephine Fox series, Jo’s philandering husband, Richard, has briefly reappeared in her life, having escaped from a POW camp. Then he abruptly disappears again. A burning car is discovered with a corpse inside; Richard appears to be implicated in what proves to be a murder, though we are deep into the story, with the tension building continuously, before the identity of the corpse is revealed.

Jo works as assistant to a local solicitor who also acts as coroner, a role which enables her to be the astute but often outspoken detective she naturally is. She is in love with her boss, Bram, the wearer of a partial mask to disguise the mutilation he suffered in the Great War, but he keeps her at a distance (this is 1944, when a separated woman was seen as at least morally ambiguous, if not an actual danger to society).

Jo is both patronised and pursued by the missing Richard’s suavely sinister colleague, Alec Corby-Clifford, and regarded as meddlesome by the local police. But when with the help of a local poacher, she finds evidence they have overlooked, both her life and Bram’s are endangered.

Gradidge captures vividly the impact of war on a rural community, with shortages, privations, and the mixed blessing of the presence of men in uniform. Verisimilitude is enhanced by reference to a real burning car murder, that of an unidentified man in Hardingstone in 1930. This is a cracking read, with a prickly, flawed, believable heroine at its heart.