Death Under a Little Sky by Stig Abell @StigAbell @fictionpubteam

Source: Review copy
Publication: 13 April 2023 from Harper Collins
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0008517014

My thanks to Harper Collins for an advance copy for review

A detective ready for a new life…

For years, Jake Jackson has been a high-flying detective in London. But then one day he receives a letter from his reclusive uncle – he has left Jake his property in the middle of the countryside. For Jake, it is the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.

A rural idyll the stuff of dreams…

At first, life in the middle of nowhere is everything Jake could wish for. His new home is beautiful, his surroundings are stunning, and he enjoys getting back to nature.

A death that disrupts everything…

But then, what starts as a fun village treasure hunt turns deadly, when a young woman’s bones are discovered. And Jake is thrust once again into the role of detective, as he tries to unearth a dangerous killer in this most unlikely of settings.

I’d like to think that there are still places like that described in Stig Abell’s debut crime novel. Abell’s detective, Jake Jackson has inherited a large but very basic farmhouse and accompanying land from his uncle Albert.  The house has no internet, no landline, no washing machine and no hot water. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere. No real neighbours, no roads to speak of near the property. This is a hamlet with one shop that has a cellar which serves as a place to drink alcohol on occasion.

For Jake it is a timely answer to his problems. He was a policeman, but has burnt-out. He was a husband, but his marriage has foundered amid the heartbreak of failure to conceive a child. Jake’s experience of working the land or building things is nil, but he needs to sequester himself away and try and find some sense of self again, so this bequest is a godsend.

Jake’s new home is in a rural backwater, beautiful and unspoiled. Jake spends his days running and wild water swimming in a lake while working out how to cook, clean and develop the land he has inherited. His evenings are spent in the one room in the house that is well stocked – the library which houses his uncle’s impressive collection of detective fiction.

He does meet some of the locals, including the local vet, a single mother whom Jake finds both attractive and good company. He is inveigled along to participate in a local tradition akin to a treasure hunt where the treasure is ‘ a bag of bones’. On this occasion though, the sticks that normally stand in for the traditional bones in this annual hunt have been replaced by actual human bones and so the mystery begins.

Jake and his attractive vet begin an investigation and as they dig into what has happened, they uncover deeply buried secrets, and soon danger is closer to the surface than anyone is comfortable with. What looked to be a cold case has clearly stirred up a lot of local feeling and soon Jake has more enemies than people he has actually met since he moved in. Abell’s characters are well described and blissfully unromanticised.

Stig Abell clearly has a love for the detective fiction genre and that shines through in his writing. He has a clean writing style that captures both the beauty and the cruelty of the countryside as well as highlighting the very real drawbacks of rural life. This is a place where everyone knows your business and few will interfere if they perceive it to be none of their business. In this ‘live and let live’ culture, evil finds it easy to breed.

Though there is a formal police presence here, it is light of touch due to the pressures of low resources in rural policing and the calculation (wrongly as it turns out) of the absence of any current threat to the community.

That allows Jake to both flex his detective muscles again and more importantly, to be the isolated figure investigating wrongdoing whilst coming to a sense of peace within himself. Though I really enjoyed the slow burn that this novel benefits from and loved the laid back feel and beautifully atmospheric descriptions, some of the dialogue did feel a little stilted and that produced an oddly strange, out of kilter experience – so much so that I wondered if it was a deliberate way to show Jake’s disassociation from societal norms.  It is odd because this book is otherwise very well written.

Overall though, I enjoyed Death Under A Little Sky which is a satisfying murder mystery embedded in a love of the genre that really does shine through. It seems that this is the first in a series and I will certainly look out for the next one.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Stig Abell presents the breakfast show on Times Radio, a station he helped to launch in 2020. Before that he was a regular presenter on Radio 4’s Front Row and was the editor and publisher of the Times Literary Supplement. At one time or another he has written for almost every newspaper in Britain, and one or two in America as well. Stig’s book How Britain Really Works was published in 2018, in November 2020 he released his second book What to Read Next. Death Under A Little Sky is a detective novel set in the countryside. He lives in London with his wife, three children and two independent-minded cats called Boo and Ninja (his children named them, obviously).

Published by marypicken

Passionate book reader. Love all kind of books from 19th century novels to crime thrillers. My blog is predominantly crime, psychological thrillers and police procedurals with a good helping of literary fiction thrown in.

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