Review of Winter Downs by Jan Edwards: part of the Winter Downs Blog Tour

Winter Downs

When Bunch Courtney's childhood friend Jonathan Frampton is found shot dead in the woods the authorities and the powers that be, from her own father to the local Justice of the Peace, seem eager to declare his death a suicide.

But her passionate sense of injustice drives Bunch to investigate her old friend's death. She is certain he could not have committed suicide, and clues at the scene drive her to confront the Chief Inspector, Wright,  dispatched to wrap the case up - his rank a fact that in itself suggests something awry. His initial attitude to Bunch is that she is a bothersome amateur.

It is the winter of 1940 and the second world war is under way. Bunch and her  sister Dodo's childhood home, Perringham House, has been requisitioned for the war effort. Bunch is in command of a troop of Land Girls, and Dodo, whose husband recently died in action, is recovering at the home of her detested in-laws, Barty and Olivia Tinsley.

The story builds tension from the start and events are seen through Bunch's eyes, though the reader is soon aware, thanks to some smart footwork by the author, that Bunch herself has a view limited by her upbringing which blinds her to certain facts. She is learning to be an amateur sleuth in the face of conventional sexism, and the increasing awareness that someone, somewhere has something to hide. She also has to overcome her own prejudices, which result from her upbringing.

This is a cosy crime mystery that nonetheless has an edge of darkness, just as Miss Marple found evil in unexpected locations in St Mary Mead. Some of the best passages are those that evoke the wintry Sussex landscape. There is plenty of period detail, but on the whole the novel wears its research lightly. It gives a flavour of the haunting atmosphere of the time, when many men had already been killed in battle, and there was an air of quiet desperation that the traditionally unemotional upper classes struggled to conceal.

It slowly becomes clear that Perringham has been requisitioned for more than regular troops. There are numerous and to Bunch mysterious foreign officers, from suave but dictatorial Colonel Kravitz to the charming Norwegian Lieutenant Seb Johannson, taking over her ancestral home while her parents decamp to Singapore and she is exiled to the Dower House with her formidable grandmother, a former suffragette.

Bunch quickly learns that the thin veneer of civility in the neighbourhood conceals a long list of possible suspects and a landscape and country changing under the pressure of war. As the body count starts to rise, Edwards tantalises the reader with various red-herrings. The motive for the first death is unclear: is it suicide or murder? And what about those that follow?

When the denouement comes, it is as unexpected as it is violent. The peace of the pastoral world where Bunch has grown up is shattered, just as the peace of distant cities is broken by nightly bombing raids. Although the  War is far away, its impact is felt throughout rural society, with crime and opportunism amongst the gentry and the country folk.

I was kept guessing right to the end, and there was a satisfying conclusion which held out the promise of further adventures for the redoubtable Bunch, her delicate but resourceful sister Dodo, and the slightly-mysterious Chief Inspector Wright.

Winter Downs launched on 3rd June and is for sale in paper and e-formats here

Jan Edwards

Jan Edwards

Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Press, and has written for Dr Who spinoffs with Reel Time Pictures.

For further information please contact Penkhull Press at:


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