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Scanned image by John van Wyhe. Formatting by George P. Landow.
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I always enjoy reading fiction that's set in a place that I know well. Hence the plethora of Cambridge related murder mysteries previously reviewed on here - GhostwalkAnatomy of ghostsPolice at the funeral, and Case histories, etc. A.K. Benedict's The beauty of murder was an even odder read, not just set in Cambridge and the Fens, but also in the University Library, where I work. This was interesting in itself, Benedict is a former Cambridge University student, so she knows her UL, but there were odd changes in the place itself, partly for narrative purposes, and occasionally, I think, simple misconceptions. So you were left with a fictionalised Cambridge that managed to be both real, and yet fictional.

It's a good fun read. Stephen Killigan arrives at St. Sepulchre's College, Cambridge, the newest philosophy lecturer on its staff. Stephen feels out of kilter with the traditions and staff of the college, coming from a working-class and determinedly down-to-earth northern background. However when he comes across the body of a murder victim, a body that suddenly disappears, Stephen is about to discover that he has a very unusual talent.

Rather different from your usual murder mysteries, this is part-crime, part-fantasy fiction, as Stephen pursues a time-travelling serial-killer, Jackamore Grass, across the centuries and across the Fens. Most of this novel I loved, it was cleverly set up, very atmospheric, Cambridge/shire is lovingly described; and I loved the leaps across history. At no point did this feel improbable, or as though the time-traveller would struggle to integrate into his new society. The strangely wispy veil floating between the real and fictionalised city also extended into Benedict's playing with the concept of time. It was very well-written, but then we came to the last third of the book, and it all went a bit wrong.....

There was the death of Killigan's Mum with a solution taken wholesale from Harry Potter, and the end of the novel failed to satisfy with the author clearly thinking of this novel as the first in a series. It made for an oddly weak ending, after such a strong start. There were some likeable characters along the way, and I'd probably give another in the series a go, but I do hate it when potentially good fiction is spoiled by commercial imperatives.

Definitely a novel for the librarians of Cambridge to read. Crime aficionados will probably be disappointed by the weak ending, but for steam-punk / fantasy fiction lovers it's a must-read.


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