The Jazz Files starts with a death, at a railway yard in Slough, on a cold Guy Fawkes Night in 1913. The characters we’re meeting are Suffragettes (or Suffragists) and already we are learning about terrible secrets contained a cedarwood box.
Immediately afterwards, we meet Poppy Denby disembarking from a train at King’s Cross Station in June 1920. She has just travelled from her home at the Manse in Morpeth, Northumberland, to London, to become a paid companion to her disabled Aunt Dot, a long-standing Suffragist. However, on her arrival at her aunt’s house in Chelsea, Poppy learns that Dot has more ambitious plans for her. After applying for numerous jobs, Poppy ends up working as an editoral assistant for the editor of The Globe newspaper. On her first day, one of the reporters, Bert, falls down the stairs at the newspaper offices in mysterious circumstances and so begins a trail which Poppy has to follow and which weaves in and around the Suffragist movement and her aunt’s group, the Chelsea Six, one of whom is a mole. From almost the outset, we know who the villains are. The questions are how, when and who with.
Fiona, a lecturer in media and scriptwriting, takes us straight into the delicious world of pre-computer journalism, where reporters were proper reporters who used notebooks, wore braces, smoked and drank, and into an office with a lattice-gated lift and where old paper files, containing useful information, but not quite enough for a story, are stored in ‘The Morgue’. The most tantalising of these, the ones pertaining to high society, are the Jazz Files. Although the ghosts of World War I linger, this is the Jazz Age, of jazz clubs where Poppy drinks champagne (as she doesn’t know about any other drinks), of Charlie Chaplin and Lillian Bayliss at the Old Vic.
The reader is also taken to the darker side of the Roaring Twenties – to the lunatic asylum, a convenient place to hide away an inconvenient female relative, especially if she’s a Suffragist. Elizabeth Dorchester has been imprisoned in an asylum for six years. Only her steadfast Christian faith gives her hope. Fiona, also the author of the Young David and Young Joseph picture books on Bible-based themes for pre-schoolers, blended the Christian element into the story as part of real life, by far the best way to do it.
Do I recommend The Jazz Files? Definitely. As former readers of reviews on my older blog, Write On, know, as a rule, I don’t review unless I can give a good review, and, if I can’t, my silence must speak for itself. However, I did read The Jazz Files some weeks ago, but Christmas got in the way of my review, Dear Reader, Christmas and family and friends. You can’t be on your computer all the time (although I am normally). I hope, shortly, to review my other recent reads.
The Jazz Files, which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Endeavour Historical Dagger award, 2016, is available from Lion Hudson here. A Poppy Denby sequel, The Kill Fee, is currently for sale in North America, but not yet in the UK, and a third book, The Death Beat, is due to be published later this year.