Friday, December 12, 2014

Review of A Willing Victim by Laura Wilson (Quercus, 2012)

November 1956 and DI Ted Stratton is called to a murder scene in Soho.  Jeremy Lloyd was a quiet young man of no apparent means who was stabbed to death with a pair of scissors, surrounded by hundreds of religious and spiritual texts.  Lloyd had recently left a cultist sect based in Suffolk run by an enigmatic post-war refugee from the continent, disillusioned by his displacement by a young boy, Michael, as the anointed future spiritual leader.  Aware that he was possibly in danger, Lloyd had left a photograph with a neighbour of a beautiful woman.  Following the trail to Suffolk and the Foundation for Spiritual Understanding, Stratton discovers the woman is Mary Milburn, the charismatic mother of Michael, supposedly conceived through immaculate conception.  She has recently disappeared.  As Stratton presses for answers the Foundation closes ranks.  Nonetheless he starts to uncover Mary Milburn’s secret past, one that raises many more questions.  Then the body of a woman is discovered in the woods near to the Foundation and Stratton is dealing with two murders and a secretive sect.

A Willing Victim is the fourth book in Laura Wilson’s historical police procedural series set in and around London the 1940s and 50s.  In this outing, Stratton is investigating the death of a strange young man in a Soho bedsit who is obsessed with spirituality, the trail leading him to a Suffolk village and a secretive, cultist sect.  It’s an engaging story that is nicely contextualised with respect to the religious foundation (drawing on Wilson’s own experiences of being raised in such an environment) and the period, has a strong sense of place, and has well drawn characters, especially DI Stratton, the charismatic Mary Milburn, and author Ambrose Tynan.  The plot is well constructed, with plenty of intrigue, blinds and feints and has a credible and gripping denouement that doesn’t slip into melodrama.  The narrative is a little over-elaborated in places, especially in the sub-plots, but overall it proved an thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read. 

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