Bitter Blue by Cath Staincliffe

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Bitter Blue by Cath Staincliffe

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Gutsy PI Sal Kilkenny investigates threatening letters and looks an area over for prospective house buyers. It's a good story, well told and would make an excellent holiday read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: June 2006
Publisher: Allison & Busby
ISBN: 978-0749081713

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Sal Kilkenny is a private investigator. Just after Easter she has two active cases. Receptionist Lucy Barker is receiving threatening mail but would prefer not to go to the police and another couple would like her to check out an area where they're thinking of buying a house. Her main problem though is her seven year old daughter who has suddenly become reluctant to go to school and is so withdrawn that she won't even discuss the reasons why. Sal has to juggle home and work as well as a social conscience when she discovers that an elderly couple are living in dreadful conditions.

I read this book at a single sitting. Sal is a woman you can warm to. I really cared what happened to her and Cath Staincliffe perfectly captured the way that a single parent has to balance child care with a professional life and how mundane much of a seemingly exciting occupation can be. Sal's gutsy but not gung-ho and doing a good job means a lot to her. She's got a lively circle of friends, some more outrageous than others, and an obvious determination to try and keep work and her social life separate.

The plot is good if not outstanding. I had my suspicions about one character very early on and couldn't really understand why Sal, sharp and wise to the ways of the world, didn't share my doubts, but this really is the only weakness in the story. Once you suspend disbelief on that point it's easy to see how the situation got out of hand and Cath Staincliffe does a very good job of increasing the tension until it's almost unbearable. She doesn't flinch from some hard facts either: with child or adult the truth is not always as obvious as you think and it's not always the man who is the aggressor.

Staincliffe's love of the city of Manchester is obvious. She catches the edginess of the city centre and how some areas are becoming gentrified whilst other areas (and the house prices) lag behind. She doesn't make the mistake of assuming that the reader knows the city as well as she does either - it's there as a constantly changing wallpaper but lack of familiarity with the city won't spoil your enjoyment of the story.

The writing is accomplished and makes for very easy reading, much in the style of Ruth Rendell. Staincliffe has no need of padding or literary frills - it's just a good story, well told.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to the Bookbag.

If you enjoy stories about private investigators then you might also like Ann Granger's Rattling the Bones which features Fran Varady or Friends and Lovers by Maureen Martella.

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Buy Bitter Blue by Cath Staincliffe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Bitter Blue by Cath Staincliffe at


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Magda said:

Anything that suggests that Manchester has anything lovable to it would work hard to suspend my disbelief! The 8 months I lived there I hated, hated, HATED it.

Sue said:

Don't hold back, Magda. Tell us how you really felt.