#BookReview Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford @AllisonandBusby

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford, the second book in the historical crime series featuring barrister, Arthur Skelton. My thanks to Christina at Allison & Busby for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

Skelton's Guide to Suitcase MurdersAbout the Book

A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase, and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?

Format: Hardcover (352 pages)      Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 22nd April 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Find Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders (Arthur Skelton #2) on Goodreads

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My Review

It was an absolute pleasure to be reunited with barrister Arthur Skelton and his trusty clerk – and friend – Edgar Hobbes. I loved the scenes where Arthur and Edgar discuss the briefs that have been sent to him. By the way, if you want to discover the inspiration for the character of Arthur, read David’s blog post on how Arthur came to be. I should say at this point that it’s not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this second one.

Having said that, for fans of the series Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders sees the return of characters from the first book, including Arthur’s cousin, Alan, and his sister, Norah, who travel the country with their caravan spreading the word of God at meetings. Often they gather useful nuggets of information for Arthur’s cases along the way, relayed to him in Alan’s chatty letters.

Another returning characters is Rose Critchlow who helped Arthur with his previous case and is now working as an articled clerk in the solicitors who provide most of Arthur’s work. Once again, Rose makes a valuable contribution, one that leads to an important discovery and provides an insight into the emerging science of forensic entomology (the lifecycles of creepy crawlies) at the same time. Amongst her other attributes, the reader learns, are superb navigational skills. ‘Rose knew the way. Of course she did. Five minutes with a map and Rose would be able to take you straight to the green-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu or the lost kingdom of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.‘ I was particularly delighted to come across the latter reference having already decided on my ‘Try Something Similar’ suggestion below.

As in the first book, the reader gets an insight into Skelton’s domestic life with wife, Mila, and children, Lawrence and Elizabeth. I particularly enjoyed the episode in which Arthur is entrusted with the Christmas shopping list, including purchasing gifts for the children and hits the busy streets of London. ‘He’d been told by many people that, if you value your health and sanity, you should never venture into a toyshop at Christmas time. Climb the Matterhorn by all means, take the waters in Moscow during a cholera epidemic, but stay away from toyshops.’ Does Arthur return with exactly what was specified on the list? Come on, he’s a man isn’t he?

Arthur’s wife, Mila, is a wonderful character and definitely nothing like the ‘She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed’ of John Mortimer’s Rumpole series. Mila is an avid reader of the newspapers, teaches archery to local girls and has lately developed a rather grand ambition, keen to outdo her acquaintance, Cissy Pemberton.  Mila and Arthur have a touching relationship such that I found it hard to forgive the author for putting Arthur through the mill when there is a a sudden turn of events.

Alongside Arthur’s attempts to find the evidence needed to achieve the acquittal of his client, Doctor Aziz, are entertaining interludes where the reader witnesses Arthur’s court appearances in other cases in which he has been instructed. He frequently ponders on the small things that can turn a case and influence a jury.

The book is also enlivened by references to real life figures such as the renowned pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury. And I especially enjoyed Arthur and Edgar’s memorable encounter with a star of stage and screen in their favourite eating place, Kembles. By the way, it’s here that Edgar, seeking to reduce his portly stature for reasons he is initially reluctant to reveal, eschews the delights of veal and ham pie for an egg salad that Arthur describes as looking like ‘the sort of thing that Mr Gandhi might have eaten as a form of protest‘.

Do Arthur and Edgar get to the bottom of the (suit)case? What do you think…?

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is another delightful addition to the series. I loved its combination of period detail, ingenious mystery and amiable humour, and I’m already looking forward to Arthur’s next guide to dastardly deeds.

In three words: Engaging, lively, clever

Try something similar: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer

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David StaffordAbout the Author

David Stafford began his career in theatre. He has written countless dramas, comedies and documentaries including two TV films with Alexei Sayle, Dread Poets Society with Benjamin Zephaniah, and, with his wife, Caroline, a string of radio plays and comedies including The Brothers, The Day The Planes Came and The Year They Invented Sex as well as five biographies of musicians and showbusiness personalities. Fings Ain’t Wot They Use T’Be – The Life of Lionel Bart was chosen as Radio 4 Book of the Week and made into a BBC Four TV documentary.

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