A Piece of Justice – Jill Paton Walsh

In response to him reading my last post and being somewhat smug, I am dedicating this ‘blog post to my flatmate. I dislike him intensely. He is a terrible person. No thanks should ever be accorded to him in any matter. There. You happy?

So I read this all in one evening on Wednesday, because crime drama is very comforting, and it was nice to curl up in my chair in my room with a cup of tea and a block of chocolate. It was a good evening.

This was incredibly enjoyable, in many of the same ways as the first. It’s a good, solid detective story, with a really endearing protagonist, set in somewhere for which I have a lot of nostalgia. Once again, we have the main mystery plot and an apparently unrelated subplot which, shocker, links into the main one later on. In this one, the subplot is quilting. I’m sorry, but it’s just so twee and adorable and soothing. It’s exactly the sort of crime drama I want in my life… the combination of actually clever, proper stakes, complex plot but which you nevertheless feel like you could have solved yourself (even though you didn’t) and yet light-heartedness.

I’ll end there for the spoiler-safe version. The rest of my enjoyment can only really be conveyed with some spoiling.

So the thing that ties everything all together in this one is actually maths. And specifically, the end conclusion is that the great mathematical discovery of their time was made by a woman in Wales denied a full degree by Cambridge because they didn’t award them to women in those days. She’d found a piece of cool geometry, which she’d worked into the pattern of a quilt which was accidentally seen by an academic mathematician on holiday, who stole the idea and published it, getting famous off the back of her work. As well as this being the obvious tie-in to quilting, the early parts of the story are also full of stuff linking in to women’s work and the difference between art and craft (someone suggests crafts are art just done by women, for instance) and how women’s endeavours are viewed by others and by themselves. It’s not at all trite, and covers some very valuable ground without being patronising or didactic.

Even more than the first, this book is the story of women and what they do, both visibly and quietly in the background, and it is just… really satisfying to read. The balance between Fran the outspoken academic, working in what is perceived as a male field, and Imogen, quietly in the background in her nursing capacity, alongside wives and mistresses and widows and farmers and quilters and all sorts of different women in different roles at different ages… it manages to cover a much larger breadth of the female existence (though not all of it, as you never could), and think about it, without ever pulling you away from the plot, since it is a murder-mystery and all.

The author basically seems to have a knack of picking something I’ll be interested in – libraries, sewing – and making it the subplot to a really solid murder mystery, with just enough twee to make me feel cosy. I’m definitely going to keep reading her work, and I’m sad about how little of it there seems to be, at least of the Imogen Quy mysteries.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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