Thursday, 19 November 1998

Jill Paton Walsh: A Piece of Justice (1995)

Edition: Coronet, 1995
A Piece of Justice coverReview number: 171

A Piece of Justice is the second of Walsh's detective novels to feature Imogen Quy, nurse at St Agatha's, a fictional Cambridge college. As you would expect from a Booker shortlisted author, it is well written, though it doesn't have a particularly difficult puzzle.
Imogen has taken a lodger, a postgraduate student named Fran writing a thesis on the nature of biography. To be able to live while working on this, she asks her supervisor if he has any suggestions of paid work she can do. He offers her the chance to ghost a biography he has been asked to write, of a prominent St Agatha's mathematician, Gideon Summerfield, about to (posthumously) receive the Waymark Prize, the (fictional) mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

When Fran receives the papers which have been amassed about this man, she and Imogen discover something rather odd. In the rather dull chronology of his life, there is a month which cannot be accounted for. Not only this, but there have been three previous biographers who have begun to work on the project, all of whom have disappeared when they tried to investigate the missing month.

The major characters are well-drawn, and (unusually for genre fiction) even the minor ones are individualised. Only the standard crime novel problem of unbelievable coincidence mars the plot in places.

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