Jennifer Marchant

Jennifer Marchant

JenniferMarchant

Jen Marchant is a lifelong Lincoln resistant and literature enthusiast. After graduating from Bishop Groseteste University she set up and co-chairs Lincoln Book Group which meets once a month in the Bailgate area. She is a regular blogger and spends most of her free time baking or crocheting.


Having not read much crime fiction before, I was unsure of what to expect from Bright Spark by Lincoln author Gavin Smith. I was pleasantly surprised by the very picaresque start to the novel.

I expected it to be action-packed and harsh, gritty descriptions of not so pleasant things. As the novel moves from the protagonist’s childhood of the 1970s to the present day mean streets of Lincoln this does begin to happen.

Ex Lincoln policeman Gavin Smith has combined his experience of being on the force with his knowledge of the streets of Lincoln to write a crime novel that will have readers wondering what really happens behind their neighbour’s closed door.

Gavin Smith released Bright Spark, set in Lincoln, in 2012.

Gavin Smith released Bright Spark, set in Lincoln, in 2012.

The action is set in modern day Lincoln with an arson attack resulting in the death of a mother and her two children. The prime suspect, the father Dale Murphy, is missing.

Has he run guiltily from the crime scene or is there something more sinister in his disappearance? That is the question the reader tries to uncover throughout the novel.

The main protagonist of the novel is Detective Inspector Rob Harkness. He views his recent promotion to be validation of this unique way solving cases. He is a heavy drinker and womaniser and often seems to bunk off work to ‘think’ about cases while napping on a sofa in the basement of the police station.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 12.27.29Harkness’ methods seem to come from an era when the police were less accountable for their actions and did what it took to get the case solved. Despite his faults it becomes apparent that Harkness really does care about solving the case and seeing that justice is done to the right person – Think a less violent or respected Gene Hunt from Life on Mars.

Interspersed between Harkness’ narration of the case are chapters narrated by those linked to the arson attack. These include Firth, an ex-con who had a grudge with Dale Murphy, Sharon, the lawyer who is defending him, and Sharon’s mother, Marjorie, who coincidentally lived next door to the Murphys.

There are also sections where we are given viewpoints from other minor characters linked to the story. Although these chapters provide some interesting background information on the main players in the case, there are so many of them that it can leave the reader confused as to where they are in the main storyline. They also detract from the action of the story, which in some parts is few and far between.

The action of the story does seem to slow down towards the middle of the novel when it becomes more concentrated on the back stories of the characters.

For me this part did seem a bit slow. But by then I was hooked into finding out who really did start the fire. Once you make it past this middle section you are rewarded with an action-packed ending. There are a couple of good twists did not leave me disappointed.

Although set in Lincoln, this does not become a very big feature of the novel and the story could be set in any small, northern city. Most of the action seems to take place in the residential part of Burton Road and a fictional pub uphill somewhere.

Overall I enjoyed this novel. Although, at 456 pages long, it could have done with a reduction in the number of characters and their lives introduced to the reader and was a bit thin on action in some parts.

But at 99p it is great value for money and a nice easy read for the approaching holiday season. It is a good first crime for anyone more used to reading lighted fiction than gritty crime as the novel switches from blunt, factual descriptions to characters musings on their lives and relationships.

It is currently only available in Kindle format and would recommend it for over 18s only, as it does have a couple of gruesome descriptions of murder and autopsies.

Jen Marchant is a lifelong Lincoln resistant and literature enthusiast. After graduating from Bishop Groseteste University she set up and co-chairs Lincoln Book Group which meets once a month in the Bailgate area. She is a regular blogger and spends most of her free time baking or crocheting.

The setting of local author Karen Maitland’s novel The Vanishing Witch may seem familiar at first. From the bustling Brayford pool to the serenity of the cathedral quarter; the landmarks in this book will be easily recognisable to Lincoln residents. But this is 1390 and all is not what it seems.

The fear of the supernatural and witchcraft casts a heavy shadow over the city. The inclusion of numerous folklore superstitions regarding witches and how to avoid their curses adds to the Gothic atmosphere of this medieval murder mystery.

As well as giving a historical insight onto Lincoln’s past, this book also has a gripping storyline with plenty of character, twists and turns to keep the reader hooked to the end.

The novel focuses on two very different households; one of a wealthy wool merchant, Robert of Bassingham. The other, a disabled peasant, Gunter, and his family who are tenants and employees of Robert’s and live on the banks of the River Witham outside the city gates of Lincoln.

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The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland

When a young widow and her two children arrive in Lincoln, Robert’s fortunes change. The widow charms her way into his arms and home. Suspicions arise when his wife dies of a sudden illness, shortly followed by his son’s body turning up in the Brayford. Is this just bad luck or is there something more sinister at work here? And who will be next?

Meanwhile, outside of Lincoln, there is discord among the peasants unable to afford the King’s poll tax and a rent increase. The situation takes a dramatic turn when the rent collector turns up dead.

A nationwide rebellion marches on London and Gunter has no choice but to follow it when his 12-year-old son runs away to join it – but there will be fatal consequences for them if they are caught.

An added bonus to the book is the medieval folklores and superstitions that head every chapter. These are historically accurate and give an interesting glimpse into the beliefs and mindset of the average medieval person. Many of which seem to involve animal organs.

A particular favourite of mine advises: ‘A cat’s heart or a frog’s, … hung in the house, is a remedy against witches’ I think this might be a remedy against other visitors to your house too!

The novel gives an interesting glimpse into the Lincoln of 600 years ago and how it has changed. The Brayford Pool is no longer the busy port surrounded by warehouses where the once famous ‘Lincoln Green’ wool was produced and shipped to national and international ports.

The cathedral no longer houses monks and is no longer only visited by the deeply religious. The reputation of Greestone steps has remained unchanged. They were then, and are now, reputed to be Lincoln’s most haunted place, where mischievous spirits gather after dark to trip up passersby. After reading this novel I know where I’ll be avoiding after dark!

The famously haunted Greestone steps in Lincoln. Photo: Richard Croft

The famously haunted Greestone steps in Lincoln. Photo: Richard Croft

This novel will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in the medieval era or Lincoln’s past. It will also be of interest to fans of mystery thrillers who are looking for something a bit different.

The book is suitable for older teenagers (15 years) and upwards. Although it talks about murder and witchcraft, these are described in vague and non graphic ways.

The novel is longer than most, at 572 pages, so perhaps is most suited to the older teenager who is an avid reader or enjoys history. The book can be found in paperback and kindle editions.

The paperback retails at £7.99 and is available in Waterstones and WH Smiths. The Kindle addition is available from Amazon at £2.99. These prices represent good value for money considering the size of the novel at almost 600 pages long.

Jen Marchant is a lifelong Lincoln resistant and literature enthusiast. After graduating from Bishop Groseteste University she set up and co-chairs Lincoln Book Group which meets once a month in the Bailgate area. She is a regular blogger and spends most of her free time baking or crocheting.