In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson

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In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The start (I hope) of a new series and it's a real cracker. Very highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: April 2022
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1529337969

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It's July 1948 and Helen Crowther is due to start work as a qualified medical almoner the following morning - on the day that the NHS is born. She'll be working for Dr Deuchar and Dr Strasser in their GP surgery and her job will be to help patients with those non-medical problems which affect their health. The hardest part of the job will be to persuade people that the services she offers really are free and that they don't have to do anything to qualify for them. Some of the problems will require delicate handling but Helen has a problem of her own which might give her some insight. Her marriage has never been consummated.

She and Sandy are living with Helen's parents, Greet and Mack Downie and Helen's sister, Teenie. Teenie has been making some snide comments which makes Helen think that she's well aware of her and Sandy's problem: it's not going to be long before she tells their mother. Greet's against Helen taking the job as a medical almoner, particularly as she could have got her a job on the line at the bottle factory, which she saw as being far more respectable and suitable. What would people think and say about Helen working with two unmarried men? If Helen takes the job, she needn't bother coming home as she and Sandy won't be welcome.

And Greet is as good as her word. When Helen gets back from work, all her belongings are outside. It's as well that Dr Strasser has offered her and Sandy the use of a flat. They're going to be in difficulties without furniture but Helen has a feeling that - for once - they're actually working together, which hasn't happened since Sandy returned from the German prisoner-of-war camp. There's really only one problem: there's the body of a young woman in the Anderson shelter in the garden.

I've got an admission to make: when I saw that there was a new book by Catriona McPherson, my first thought was Dandy Gilver! I'm always keen to read the latest in the series as it's one that never seems to lose its sparkle. It was only as I started reading that I realised that Dandy was absent but in her place, we had a rather splendid young woman by the name of Helen Crowther. Her feistiness has a coating of common sense and she has a wonderful enthusiasm for helping people, for making their lives better. Sandy is a troubled young man: his main contribution to the war effort was simply being in the prisoner-of-war camp and taking up German manpower and food by needing to be guarded and fed. Not everyone sees this as a valid contribution.

Then we have the doctors. Dr Deuchar is outwardly more friendly, and more understanding of Helen's background but it's Strasser who offers the practical help. The main problem though is the body. Exactly who is this young woman? Why is it that it's only Helen who seems worried about establishing her identity - and proving that she was murdered?

It's a wonderful snapshot of the time and the place. It's Edinburgh in that uneasy post-war period. The was might be over but the battles to be fought are just less obvious. Back-street abortion is the only solution even for a married woman and poverty is endemic if not openly acknowledged in a city with wears its rigid social distinctions with pride. I learned a great deal without ever feeling that I'd been educated. It's a splendid story and one which I finished all too quickly. I'd like to thank the publishers for letting Bookbag have a review copy.

McPerson is an exceptional writer. I'm sire that you'll also enjoy her Dandy Gilver novels.

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