Jan Newton: Remember No More
Honno Press 2017
Detective Sergeant Julie Kite has upped sticks from Manchester to rural Mid Wales, her transfer determined by her husband Adam accepting a post in a local school, teaching history. Not unexpectedly, she’s already conflicted about the prospect, not least because Adam has strayed down the path of dalliance in the recent past.
And on her first day in her new job she finds she’s landed slap bang in the middle of a murder investigation.
The cover strapline to Remember No More is ‘Bad blood runs in families’, harking back to the truism that in rural communities not only is everyone likely to know everyone else’s businessr but also that they’re likely to be related, however distantly. Gareth Watkin has been found murdered — shot through the head — on a lonely stretch of mountain, and suspicion immediately alights on his brother; however, others in the family seem to have secrets they’re reluctant to share. There’s also Stephen Collins entering the frame: he’s a criminal who once vowed vengeance on duty solicitor Gareth and on arresting officer Gordon Price for his incarceration following a very nasty crime, and who has just been released from Manchester prison with a bad dose of religion.
This debut crime novel from Jan Newton as well as being very readable has the ring of truth: the author herself is a Mancunian relocated to Mid Wales. Her creation DS Kite is just the latest incomer to this area (mid-Powys around the Epynt and the so-called Wells towns) — Llanwyrtyd Wells, for example, welcomed young Czechoslovak Jewish refugees during the war. However, local feeling is naturally still rankled by the conversion of Mynydd Epynt to an army firing range which at the beginning of the war forced established families to move without any form of compensation. In this historically complex cultural terrain Julie has next to no time to find her feet whilst avoiding stepping on those of others.
As a police procedural Remember No More works well, giving us glimpses of how local police stations might function (though there is no indication of impending funding cuts, as has been happening in real life) and of how personnel might cope under professional and personal pressures. In terms of the principal whodunit a likely perpetrator is flagged up fairly early on, the only real puzzle being motive, only revealed in detail towards the end; but there are additional mysteries simmering along, making this a satisfying read and a rich portrait of relationships.
In particular, Julie Kite is an engaging creation — bright, sparky, intuitive but anxious — with a marriage to rescue and new colleagues to work with. She makes understandable mistakes but proves a reliable support to her immediate superior (the bigger-than-life DI Swift) as well as steering a difficult path through established station dynamics and thwarted ambitions.
Remember No More is promoted as ‘a DS Kite mystery’ and so I very much hope to hear more about her in succeeding volumes. Will she continue to shine in her new placement? Will her spouse continue to prove reliable? And will she really feel that Mid Wales is home? Honno, an imprint established to publish more female Welsh writers, has done well with this title, despite the odd typos (mostly to do with misplaced quotation marks and the occasional missing word). There’s heart to this bit of crime fiction in which women play key roles, balanced with a warning to beware those who feel scorned and abandoned.
In the Ultimate Reading Challenge this falls into the category of a book set in a place I live in, though strictly speaking the action occurs a little north of my home; however, this is rural Wales we’re talking about, where boundaries are more fluid