Shadow Over Edmund Street, Suzanne Frankham
Edwina Biggs has lead a quiet life, battling to make ends meet, working a mundane job with antisocial hours, living a restrained life in a contained neighbourhood. Things were changing at last though as she'd recently swapped the big family home for a small cottage on Edmund Street, learnt to drive, and bought herself a car and some freedom. For a long time though, she's been a blurry character to all around her, one of those myriad of quiet women, living unremarkable lives. Until she died on a wet, blustery, cold Sunday morning, in her recently acquired car, at the foot of a cliff, on the top of which sits some of the most premium Auckland real-estate.
The catastrophic neck wound that killed her is obviously not self-inflicted but who would have a reason to kill a middle-aged woman, with such a non-descript life, seemingly leaving little in the wake of her death but random recollections, men who had loved and left, and distant children.
SHADOW OVER EDMUND STREET is author Suzanne Frankham's debut novel, structured as part classic police investigation - with Detective Alex Cameron and his team somewhat bamboozled by the lack of anything around Edwina Biggs. What little might have been gleaned from the crime scene is washed away by the weather; potential motives, means or opportunity can't be gleaned from a life so restrained; and potential witness testimony is as vague and odd as the life the victim lived. Apart from the testimony of a friend, Rose Jones, who seems to be the only person with a glimpse behind the scenes.
It's a fascinating setup - the idea that no matter how good the investigating team is, if the victim is a closed book, and the scene is a dead loss, what or where do they turn. The option of banging a few heads together to create a bit of tension seems a perfectly reasonable approach given what they are up against, and this is a team that can step up to that mark quite well. Until suddenly, about half way through the book - the team, and the reader realise that this going nowhere, and it kind of feels like it may never do so. Which makes you wonder with some delicious anticipation, where this is all heading.
At this point Frankham has a red hot go at tipping crime fiction norms on their head, and there's a shift in style and tone, a major reveal is chucked into the mix, a villain mostly outs themselves, and we tip right into black comedy territory, which I have to admit I did not see coming, and struggled a bit to get my head around, a shapeshift that read like there was some heavy duty wrestling underway to keep it on track and charging towards the resolution.
What I particularly liked about this novel was the depiction of Edwina Biggs and the way her life was so bounded by geography and community. The coincidence of her change in circumstance and the gentrification of inner-city Auckland was really fascinating, as was the way that women, in particular women of a certain age and social ranking are under-considered, under-noticed and basically under-appreciated. There's also a lot being said here about the way that gentrification might improve properties, but destroys communities.
As a police procedural in the main, the central investigator - Alex Cameron - feels like a character with real potential to be the lead in an ongoing series, one that's a bit less conflicted and bitter and twisted than some contemporaries which is, in and of itself, a welcome change.
Edwina’s death is brutal, a swift and silent killer who leaves no clues. Her murder seems unsolvable until a casual comment sends Inspector Alex Cameron and his seasoned team trawling through the dead woman’s childhood.
Raised in a poverty-scarred part of Auckland, Edwina was a battler. Life revolved around the church and her mundane job unpacking vegetables. Meanwhile, a new generation gentried her suburb. After winning a gym membership, she lost weight, got a new hairstyle, clothes, job—and made a new friend, Rose.
Can Alex Cameron uncover the link in time to save the next victim? And preserve his own reputation? The murky past has left a shadow over Edmund Street. Everyone and no one is a suspect, until …