Title: In the Beginning There Was a Murder
Author: PC James
Publisher: The James Gang, Amazon
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Pauline Riddell and Marjorie Armstrong work together. Pauline doesn’t quite approve of Marjorie’s latest boyfriend, the latest of many, a married man. Pauline has only heard of his first name, Eric.
Pauline comes to know of the murder of a young man, chalked up to gang violence. Then she hears of a young woman being killed in the same vicinity on the same night in the same manner.
Inspector Ramsay clings to the theory that the two murders are not related even though evidence suggests otherwise. Pauline, impatient and missing her fiancé, Stephen, who is fighting at the front in Korea, makes it her mission to discover the truth about Marjorie. She makes her own enquiries and accuses people of the murder, only to find later that they have rock solid alibis and she has only embarrassed herself. Inspector Ramsay is in despair, pleading with her to let the police do their job and not to put herself in harm’s way.
But then one of her suspects acts like they have something to hide. Has Pauline put her life in danger?
The chapters are a quick read, and alternate between the 3rd person past tense limited viewpoints of Pauline Riddell and Inspector Ramsay.
In the Beginning there was a Murder is set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England in July 1953, 8 years after World War II ended. It is a war that continues to cast a long shadow on the lives of people.
The book gives us a window to the times. Food is hard to get by and rations continue. Young girls are getting jobs in factories, mostly as secretaries. The war in Korea is on.
The descriptions were more suggestive, rather than literal, just the way I like them. The author roots the book in Newcastle through the link with the football club, Newcastle United. The setting came alive with accounts of the weather, the people and the routines.
Inspector Ramsay has lost his wife and two sons to an air bombing that missed its targeted shipyards, and hit a civilian home. His grief makes him intensely real. The author tells us, it looked as if sorrow had set up home in him. The bereavement explains his grievance against wars and ammunition when Sergeant Morrison thinks forced enlisting will solve all problems. In many ways, he is conservative, and the author tells us that he may have left the church but it hadn’t left him.
I liked Inspector Ramsay from the very beginning. He was patient and hardworking, in spite of the pressures from his seniors. He wanted the right result not the result right now. But Pauline I didn’t take to very well, not at first. It was only in Chapter 13 when she started snooping around, following people, and fearing that if this continued, she’d become a criminal herself that I began to like her.
Of course, given the time period, it is very brave of her to even go around making enquiries and trying to do investigations on her own. The bond between Inspector Ramsay and Pauline, once they established a truce, was good.
In his bit role, Major Bertram, Stephen’s father, was also significant..
Some of the author’s observations were astute: lust and alcohol-induced glow.
Some fine-toothed editing was required though. The first murder victim is first named Thomas Bertram and then as Edward Bland. Perhaps the name was changed later, because as it turned out, Stephen, Pauline’s fiancé, was also a Bertram.