A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders marks the debut of Samantha Clair, a London book editor caught up in a criminal investigation (available February 24, 2015).
I read a lot of mysteries featuring amateur sleuths. A lot. There are those with crafting themes, various types of cooking and baking, and many featuring pets. All sorts of settings and careers are represented. This protagonist of this series debut works at one career I haven’t encountered. Samantha “Sam” Clair is a middle-aged book editor at an independent publishing house in London.
A book set in London? Great. About a book editor? Cool. With a mystery to boot? Oh, yes, please!
When I imagine a glamorous day in the life of an editor—and I do—I think of lunches with famous authors, tough negotiations with agents, and networking at cocktail parties and book launches. Then there’s the really fun part of reading a lot of books and helping nudge some of them into publishable shape.
Sam does all of those things, but it’s not at all glamorous. Her days are pretty much the same as any middle-management person. The meetings with her coworkers are long, generally boring, and often frustrating. Lunches with authors may involve stroking egos rather than deep intellectual conversations. And the cocktail parties mean more time with the people she’s just spent at least eight hours with.
One author lunch is with Sam’s friend, Kit Lovell. Kit is a fashion journalist who has written a tell-all about a late fashion designer and his design house. While the author is sure of his facts and sources, Sam knows the legal team will need to be involved. Kit would rather talk about an upcoming trip to Paris and trying to convince fashion unforward Sam to go with him.
“Gray? How can gray be too bright?”
I began to laugh helplessly. I’m not unaware of my limitations, I even know they’re ludicrous. I just don’t see why I should change them. “Kit, it’s too bright. It’s a bright gray. An incredibly loud, cheerful, bright gray. Practically scarlet. Now let’s just go. I’m not going to buy a suit. I’m not even going to try on a suit. I have a suit.”
The linguist Noam Chomsky once came up with a sentence to demonstrate how you could say something completely grammatical that still had no meaning at all. His was “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” Kit obviously thought “I have a suit” was on the same level.
When Kit Lovell seems to have gone missing, no one but Sam seems to be concerned about his disappearance. Then Sam’s apartment is burgled, and CID Inspector Jake Fields becomes interested.
Recently, a group of my friends were discussing stories that tell the reader (or viewer in the case of television and movies) that the protagonist is smart, really smart. Then throughout the rest of the story, that same protagonist does one stupid thing after another. Now, we all know smart people can make bad choices. But often these characters charge into a dangerous situation without so much as a thought that it might be a bad idea. When they get into trouble and keep making stupid choices, they can no longer be considered smart.
In this case, Sam often thinks of herself as coming off somewhat dim-witted. She is anything but. While she may not always understand exactly what other people’s motives are, she maneuvers through her own world of publishing, her mother’s world of lawyers, and the fashion world with her eyes open and brain in gear. She also manages to keep up, somewhat, with her amazing mother.
I don’t really understand how my mother lives her life, much less why. From time to time I consider the possibility that she is really two people, or perhaps a Martian. The Martian scenario usually wins out. My mother has been with the same City law firm forever. She made partner outrageously young, in her twenties. She had shown her fitness early: When she was twenty-two she took three days off work to have me, and has never really let me forget it, mostly by looking amazed whenever I am ill, as if to say, You’re staying home for that?
I like the pacing, the puzzle, and the protagonist. The ending is quite satisfying. Most of all, I like the voice. Sam is, as previously noted, smart. She’s also caring and funny. She can be snarky, but usually only inside her own thoughts. I’d love to spend more time with her. Fingers crossed we all will have the chance.
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Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo's Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel.
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