The special appeal of series fiction, at least for me, largely comes from watching the lead characters change and mature over a number of years. That, however, can be a double-edged sword when a reader begins a long-running series with its latest volume. Not having watched a character evolve over time, a reader might find the current versions of the character and setting intriguing but discover that, for them, the earlier books do not work as well. Because Not My Blood is Barbara Cleverly’s tenth “Joe Sandilands investigation,” but my first, that is exactly the proposition I look forward to putting to the test soon. I am particularly curious this time because I have never before started a series so late in its run.
Not My Blood is set in 1933, a time far enough from both the past horrors of World War I and the future ones of World War II that people are still easily surprised by crimes against children. And what Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands uncovers at one English boarding school shocks him to his core.
Joe spent time in India on assignment to the British Foreign Service but has been back in England now for several years. When the young son of a British couple he befriended in India flees his Brighton-area boarding school and seeks shelter with Joe in London, Joe is drawn into an investigation at the school that unexpectedly has the potential to shame members at the highest levels of British society and government. His determination to protect the little boy is intensified when Joe sees things in Jackie Drummond that convince him that Jackie could be the illegitimate son whose existence he never suspected.
A professor at Jackie’s school has been murdered, and Joe and the local police are charged with the responsibility of bringing the killer to justice. When the investigation reveals that the murdered man was investigating the disappearance from the school of almost a dozen young boys over a period of several decades (only one of whose parents ever showed any concern about a missing son), and fearing that Jackie might be targeted as the next victim, Joe turns up the heat. His efforts are ably assisted by a local cop and by Dorcas Joliffe, a headstrong young woman whom readers will remember from earlier books in the series. Their united efforts, plus a bit of good luck, solve a case that has repercussions delicate enough to leave Joe wondering if he still has a job when it is all over.
Not My Blood has a lot going for it - intricate plot, entertaining characters, and intense atmosphere, among its strong points. Too, the rural English setting Cleverly creates combines with the atmosphere of the period to give the book an ominous feel right from the beginning because readers sense that World War I has already stolen the world’s relative innocence – and we all know what is coming just down the road.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)