I encountered Jane Stevenson when I read in The Guardian her assessment of the work of Margery Allingham.
I doubt if anybody reads a Margery Allingham for the detection, since the plots are mostly fantastical to the point of campness. Her most interesting individual twist on the genre was to abandon detection entirely and write what I think of as the “convergence “story. That is, you, the reader, meet both the criminal and the detective early on.
The Guardian 19-8-2006
It is a long and perceptive article which is available to read on The Guardian site, and it piqued my curiosity about its author whose name was unknown to me.
I found that Jane Stevenson was an academic and author of several books of fiction and non-fiction. I was drawn to her 2000 novel, London Fields described as paying homage to the English detective novel, but I managed to get hold of her 2005 book Good Women, a series of three novellas, which have received such glowing reviews I can’t imagine why I have never heard of her.
A few tastes of her work below.
In Light My Fire a truly unpleasant man, a Scottish architect, lands a second wife, who is both sexy and calculating, but not up to his snobbish idea of what is socially acceptable. Here she is dressed to go to a rather formal party at Lady Pitsligo’s mansion
I walked into the bedroom and stopped dead. Freda was standing in the middle of the room in her new dress, contemplating the affect in the wardrobe mirror. The outfit in question was bright red, sewn with red crystals, skin tight and asymmetric, with a slit up on side practically to waist level. Some kind of ghoulish infrastructure was shoving her mammaries up so they sprouted from just under her collarbones like a par of Cruise missiles. She looked as common as muck…God, I thought, I can’t be seen with her.
David Laurence gives us a great deal of information about dodgy renovations of old houses in remote parts of Scotland. He is a wonderful creation and the reader is only all too pleased when his shady tactics come unstuck.
The second story Walking with Angels is equally satisfactory, although the protagonist Wenda, a much put upon housewife married to the stodgy Derek is a sympathetic character. Plump and looked down on by her sisters, for most of her life Wenda has been content to keep an immaculate house and to allow Derek to take charge of the finances. When she starts seeing angels though, she is no longer content to have no control over her life. Here she is meeting one of her angels.
There was an angel standing by the fridge again. He had a nice sort of goldy sheen, but it wasn’t a good moment for that sort of caper. Mornings are always hectic, and I’d just mashed a pot of tea, so I walked right past him to get the milk. When I came up to him, he sort of smeared in the air and vanished, and by the time I opened the fridge door he was gone. It made me smile to myself, though.
Wenda starts to explore the world of Angel Guidance via the Internet. She discovers she has quite a gift for readings and healing. She gets a website and starts to design Angel Cards, her friend Jean comes up with a stunning business plan. She is all set to go. The only snag is Derek. Read Walking with Angels to find out how to develop a business in that area and what to do about an obstructive husband.
The third novella Garden Guerillas is also a deeply satisfying story of a put-upon woman finding freedom. It will appeal to the older reader who is struggling with acquisitive daughters-in-law. Alice had been an art student when she married Geoff but got completely subsumed in the life of being wife and mother to their son David. Her only passion is her cats and her garden; and she is a serious and knowledgeable gardener. Six months after Geoff’s death Alice is feeling pressure from her son and his wife to move out of the family home, give up her beloved garden and live in a poky retirement flat nice and close so she can babysit. Her solution to this is both clever and very long term. And the planning of it brings her in contact with an old friend who shows her the way to a life of her own. Here is Alice in her garden.
It was getting towards six, but there was still a lot of light. I looked out into the garden, as I had done so often, and noticed that the ‘Persian Musk’ rose was falling from the wall and needed tying in. A nice one-off job, which would neatly use up the last of the day. I got my raffia secateurs, and a hammer and some vine-eyes, and suck them in various pockets, and went out to deal with it.
Any gardeners reading will recognise a fellow devotee and will thoroughly enjoy the revenge she creates.
Jane Stevenson should be more widely known.