When a young woman is attacked walking home from her local supermarket, Bea Jordan, a smart but unfulfilled checkout girl, is determined to investigate. Colleagues and customers become suspects, secrets are uncovered. While fear stalks the town, Bea finds an unlikely ally in Ant, the seemingly gormless new trainee, but risks losing the people she loves most as death comes close to home. The Cost of Living is a warm, contemporary story with likeable leads, an engaging cast of supporting characters and a dark thread running throughout.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rachel Ward’s first crime novel for adults, but I enjoyed reading this book. The Cost of Living is primarily set in the local supermarket of the small town of Kingsleigh. Bea is our protagonist; a bright young woman who deserves more than life is currently offering her, Bea is a check out attendant who likes to take an interest in her customers.
Bea lives with her mum, Queenie, who has been experiencing mental health issues since the death of her husband, Bea’s father some six years earlier. It is this that has kept Bea living at home and working nearby so that she can attend to her mother’s need for order and routine.
Ant is a young man with troubles of his own. He’s the general dogsbody, otherwise known as trainee, and all his life he has been written off as trouble. Gavin, the supermarket manager is giving him a chance, and while he is a cocky lad, Bea takes a liking to him as does her colleague Dot, an older woman who takes time and trouble with her appearance.
Bea keeps herself interested by taking an interest in her customers guessing what their lives are like through their shopping and behaviour. Costsave, the supermarket, is a microcosm of the town. On Thursday nights, people in search of a date come along to do their shopping and Bea, along with everyone else, knows that if they put a banana in their basket, it means they are single and looking for a date. Bea is sure she has seen Dot there recently.
All is, however, not well in Kingsleigh. One night, Bea thinks she is being followed on her journey home. She usually takes a shortcut along an alley and by the time she gets home she is trembling with fright.
Later that evening, she hears the noise of a helicopter overhead and the following morning she learns that there has been an attack on a young woman just a few streets away. When Bea realises that she knows the woman, Emma Crosby, and that she had been in the supermarket only the day before, she is more frightened than ever and reports her experience to the police.
When another attack occurs, Bea becomes convinced that the perpetrator must be someone who comes into the supermarket and the police seem to agree as they focus their search on staff, customers and those who have recently come into contact with them. But there are also consolations in the midst of the fear and Bea finds herself attracted to one of the policemen.
Discussing events with Ant and Dot, Bea enlists them into some amateur detective work, tracking customers and finding out more about them and their lives and what their alibis are.
Just as you might imagine, this leads them into a whole heap of trouble and various characters fall under their spotlight as they discover some unsavoury things about their regulars.
Ant and Bea are not an obvious pair and that’s nicely refreshing. They develop a mutual respect and interest and they play off each other very well as they start to understand more about each other’s lives. I enjoyed the Dot character a lot and the whole mystery has a fresh and down-to-earth appeal to it. The lively and witty banter and straightforward writing add to its appeal.
While it does probably fall into the cosy crime category, I would describe it it more like an urban Midsomer Murders meets a young Agatha Raisin.
It’s not my usual crime fare, but the thread of darkness and the engaging characters coupled with the plausible setting makes it more than just a cosy crime story.
The Cost of Living is published by Sandstone Press on 21st September
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About Rachel Ward
Photo Sean Malyon
Rachel Ward is a best-selling writer for young adults. Her first book, Numbers, was published in 2009 and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. An avid reader of detective fiction, The Cost of Living is her first book for adults. Rachel is married with two children and lives in Bath.