Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd April 2020 from Orphans Publishing
Jack Johnson has a talent for trouble – wherever he goes on his narrowboat, it seems to follow him. Moored up on the River Avon in the beautiful Georgian surroundings of Bath, he’s working at the local paper when a prominent magistrate and heritage campaigner is attacked and drowned. Could it be a serial killer copying the Canal Pusher? Or a biker gang who swore revenge on the magistrate?
Against his wishes, Jack is pulled into the investigation by his ambitious editor who wants the scoop. Jack and his friend, the war widow, Nina, have also been drawn into another struggle. The moorings of a small settled boating community sit alongside a huge former industrial site that property developers want to fill with luxury housing.
Nearby residents are enlisted to petition against the boat people, and as the campaign spirals out of control, lives are threatened. Who is helping their enemies? Another gripping tale of corruption and intrigue from the riverbank, full of dark waters and deadly secrets.
I enjoyed the first book in this series, Canal Pushers, so was delighted to read River Rats. I’m delighted to say that this is another highly enjoyable read and, if anything, I think I liked this book even more as I got to know the characters better. River Rats is easy enough to read as a stand-alone, though, all the necessary background is there to enable the reader to jump straight in.
Jack Johnson, our divorced and largely unemployed protagonist, is a narrowboat dweller and this time he has moored his boat, Jumping Jack Flash, at a private mooring at the bottom of a wealthy entrepreneur’s garden in the heart of the city of Bath and the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Jack wastes no time in taking up some freelance shifts on the Bath Chronicle, whose Editor is a young man looking to make a name for himself, not always in a good way. So when a well-known local worthy is attacked and killed on the canal path, his editor wastes no time is asking Jack to write a substantive speculative piece suggesting that a copycat murderer may be emulating the deaths that Jack has written about in his book about the Canal Pusher.
Jack is less sure about this approach but interviewing the man’s widow, he realises there is another story going on which though perhaps less headline-grabbing, is an important local story that needs to be followed up.
Andy Griffee gives us another engaging mystery with a well-plotted storyline and characters that hold our attention. The relationship between Jack and attractive widow Nina is a slightly old-fashioned one, but in this context it works well and if Jack sometimes can’t work out whether Nina likes him or his dog best, that’s all to the strength of a complicated relationship. Jack’s insouciant actor friend, Will makes another enjoyable appearance, too.
Griffee’s sense of place is strong and deep and makes for a rich and atmospheric backdrop to this murder mystery as does his extensive knowledge of the world of both local and national journalism. So you believe wholeheartedly in the setting and the plot is all too believable, concerning dodgy property developers and their desire to ride roughshod over a group of canal dwelling residents.
Like the canals themselves, River Rats is a bit of a slow burner, and I liked that. Being able to take in the surroundings; getting to know the various characters and letting Jack and Nina bed in to their community is all done with a degree of elegance and the plot flows well as a result. River Rats explores the contrast between the affluence in the city of Bath and those who have difficulty in making ends meet and affording any kind of housing in a highly desirable marketplace as well as exploring Bath’s underbelly.
Verdict: A dramatic plot line with plenty of twists also carries a nice undercurrent of edge and humour in a story keeps the reader engrossed. Roll on Book Three!
Andy Griffee is a former BBC journalist and media consultant with a fascination for stories. He began his journalism career at the Bath Evening Chronicle, and then spent twenty-five years at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. Andy lives in Worcestershire and, when he isn’t writing, rears rare breed pigs, struggles to keep a 1964 Triumph Spitﬁre on the road and enjoys hiring narrowboats with his wife Helen.