(Audio)Book Talk: Joy Ellis’ Intrigue on the Fens

I came for Richard Armitage’s performance reading Joy Ellis’ Their Lost Daughters. Mysteries are not normally my thing compared to other people. Winnipeg has a bookstore called Whodunit, richly deserving of its recent expansion, for anyone’s mystery needs. McNally Robinson has a pretty good section, and readers love their UK writers. I remember during my time at McNally, a new Rebus book by Iain Banks gets customers calling or stopping by to put their names down for the upcoming book. I came for Richard Armitage alright, but Joy Ellis’ strong plots and characters made me stay.

While hearing Their Lost Daughters, I did what many people tried while reading/hearing a mystery-guess who did it. One character in the book struck me as sketchy and had me convinced he did it. (He didn’t.) The latest audiobook, The Guilty Ones, had an ending that threw me until I realized she pulled a Chekov’s gun rule in one throw-away line making me realizing ‘oh, very clever.’ I liked the relationship between Rowan Jackman and Marie Evans, a mutual friendship, a close bond, but not a romantic one. The relationships among characters change, and the immediacy of her writing makes me feel like a part of the story rather than a passive participant. Yes, Richard Armitage narrating the stories doesn’t hurt either.

After the last Jackman and Evans ended, I took a chance on another set of Joy Ellis characters-Detective Inspector Nikki Galena and Detective Sargent Joseph Easter. Rory, the pathologist and minor character in the Jackman and Evans world, casually dropped the name in one scene as he wondered how well Rowan would get on with Nikki. After recovering from the ending of The Guilty Ones, I decided to take a chance on the first book, Crime on the Fens (formerly titled Mask Wars),  and see how the narrator, Henniretta Miere, an actor whose credits include Hello Ladies and Playing It Cool, handles various character voices. How did she do? Reader, I am on book 7 of the series, Buried on the Fens.

Miere handles the male voices from the serene DS Easter to the slow cadence of Dave Harris. In the case of the latter, I get a vision of a teddy-bear of a man, a good copper, with a big heart for his ailing wife and his workmates. That’s how good, I feel, she is reading the book. DI Galena has a blunt manner while softening in certain situations. She’s a no BS copper, a woman coming up through the ranks as opposed to the university-educated, upper-middle-class Rowan Jackman. My theory? They will be very wary of each other. Armitage narrates Jackman as a thoughtful man, a contemplative leader, with DS Marie Evans providing the instincts on cases. Personally, I think DS Evans and DI Galena would hit it off, both women rose from the ranks in a male-dominated profession and can relate, woman to woman, on painful moments in their lives.

If my recommendation comes down to one thing, an irony considering the dark material in both series, it’s fun. The books are fun to hear, fun to read, and fun when picking up Anglo-English idioms like ‘beaker’ for a coffee cup, ‘snout’ for an informant, also the word ‘Wilco‘ means ‘will compliance’ not just the name of a band. The story pivots on the strength of its dark humour, the way relationships develop, and especially the close relationship of the central DI and DS.

On that topic…A declaration. No, a request. Forget that, I am going to say it.

Nikki Galena and Joseph Easter like each other, I mean, REALLY like each other in the best slow-burn way you see in English period dramas but with coppers. The narration always maintained both characters think of their relationship as a close friendship. However, characters, like first-person narrators, can prove unreliable and I think they’re in denial. Then again, I haven’t asked Joy Ellis “So, are Joseph and Nikki in deep denial about their feelings or just English?” Now that’s a mystery worth solving.

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