BLOOD FROM STONE was recently announced as the winner of the 2008 Duncan Lawrie Dagger, presented by the Crime Writers' Association in the UK. Reading a prize-winning novel for review always presents a slightly different set of questions to answer - the obvious one being why did it win? Frances Fyfield is the author of around 17 previous novels incidentally.
BLOOD FROM STONE is essentially the story of Marianne Shearer; successful criminal barrister and defence counsel; wealthy and supposedly extremely self-assured - Marianne is not a conventionally attractive woman, but she dresses extremely, and formally well. Why did she jump from a sixth-floor window? Especially as she had just won a very high profile case - her client might have been guilty, he may have been an extremely nasty piece of work - but her defence slowly wore down the prosecution case - probably killed a chief witness. But vigorous defence was the normal part of her daily life. After her death her own lawyer and probably one of the few people able to call himself a friend - Thomas Noble - finds that there is a lot to Marianne's private life that's looking increasingly abnormal. When he hires humble lawyer, and Junior to Marianne, Peter Friel to help track down all her missing possessions it is Peter that finally manages to pinpoint what was really odd about her death - her clothes.
The entire of this book swirls around Marianne's life and the final case she defended before throwing herself to her death. There are some co-incidences drawn upon to bring a number of the elements of the story together - the connections between Peter and Thomas, the connections between them both and Marianne. The connection between her clothes and the last case that she defended. The connections between the accused in that case and Marianne. It's all those connections and all those coincidences that give the reader pause for concern as they are revealed - pretty rapidly in the early stages of the book. But stay with it. The point of the connections is that life is often more about co-incidences and weird occurrences that logically - make no sense - but they happen and the impact of them is often long-term and incredibly far reaching.
Part of what really works in BLOOD FROM STONE is that sense that one more thing can't possibly happen - but it does. One more co-incidence couldn't possibly be explained - but it can. One more element to this story can't possibly be connected - but it is. Ultimately what really works is that Fyfield writes a cast of characters that are accessible, and believable. In a deft touch even the dead are accessible, if not ever so slightly just on the fringe of reach - you learn only so much about the dead - enough to make you understand some of what they did / went through - but not so much that it's unrealistic or even - disconcerting. It's definitely an unusual setting, and it's an unusual story insomuch as the deaths of most concern are not murders, but it is a really engaging and fascinating book. Definitely would have won a prize if I gave one.