The Winter Foundlings ~ Kate Rhodes

the-winter-foundlingsI was lucky enough to stumble across Kate Rhodes’ work just after the first Alice Quentin novel, Crossbones Yard, was published.  Two things struck me immediately about that book, the quality of Rhodes writing and her knowledge of London.  Rhodes, who is a Londoner by birth, is also a published poet and both these factors are clearly influential in her series of crime novels about a psychologist who reluctantly finds herself working with the police to apprehend criminals who are also seriously disturbed individuals.

The Winter Foundlings is no exception to the established pattern.  Alice has taken a six month research placement at Northwood, a high security hospital where she is hoping that she will have time to recover from her last assignment with the Metropolitan Police Force.  However, a series of child abductions which has so far resulted in three murders, proves to have links to one of the Northwood inmates, Louis Kinsella, and although it is impossible that he can have been physically involved it is clear that in someway he is inspiring the current kidnappings.  Reluctantly, Alice agrees to try and interview him in order to seek information that might lead to the arrest of whoever is responsible and the rescue of the latest victim, Ella.

Northwood proves to be a place where many of the employees are damaged individuals themselves, which forces both Alice and the reader to ask questions about the nature of those who choose to work in such an environment and the harm that such employment can do to people who take it up.  It also, of course, provides Rhodes with a plethora of suspects.  It very soon becomes apparent that there is a connection between the crimes and the Foundling Museum which commemorates the Hospital established by Thomas Coram in 1739 where mothers who could no longer care for their children could leave them to be raised.  Kinsella, who at the time of his arrest was headmaster of a school, had always taken a particular interest in children from troubled backgrounds and the theory that emerges is that he has influenced at least one of these damaged minds to the extent that in adulthood they have followed him into a life of crime.  But which one?  It was only twenty pages from the end when I felt confident that I could predict the villain of the piece and even then the way in which the final scenes would play out was unclear.

One of the structural features of this novel is a narrative split between the main aspects of the story as they feature Alice and the events as they are seen from the point-of-view of ten year old Ella, the most recent victim.  Normally, I find this method of story-telling very difficult to deal with.  It often seems to have been adopted only as an excuse for introducing gratuitous violence and I tend to agree with the Ancient Greek playwrights that such actions are better kept off stage and reported to the audience via a convenient messenger.  Here, however, the second narrative is a vital part of both the story and the psychological phenomenon that Rhodes is exploring.  Ella may be a child, but she is mentally very mature for her age and capable of thinking clearly and understanding the situation she is in.  Her captor, on the other hand, though physically adult, is still, in many respects, the damaged youngster who fell under the influence of Kinsella before he was caught and committed.  What I found interesting was that while such individuals might most commonly be thought of as still being a child, when you observe them in the company of an astute child like Ella you can see that that isn’t an accurate description at all.  The damage that has been done to them may have in some way retarded their emotional and psychological development but they are nothing like a child and I wonder how much more damage society inflicts by not realising the difference.  Perhaps this is something of which professionals who work in places like Northwood are well aware, but this book certainly made me stop and think about my own perceptions.

Kate Rhodes is fast becoming one of my favourite crime writers and certainly one I can recommend to you if you haven’t already encountered her work.  I’m very grateful to Mulholland Books for sending me a copy of this latest novel for review.

A Killing of Angels ~ Kate Rhodes

a-killing-of-angels-by-kate-rhodesLast week I gave up on a new crime novel that I had been assured by one eminent critic was absolutely superb.  I’d tried the first book by this particular writer (no names, no pack drill because as you might already have sussed, I don’t have anything complementary to say about them) and given up on it in despair. However, given the praise that was being lavished on number two, I thought I’d better have a second go.  I made it through all of three chapters before deciding that life was just too short and anyway why subject myself to that sort of pain. And painful it was because the writing was full of clichés at just about every level.

Fortunately, I then turned to the second novel by Kate Rhodes in her series featuring psychologist Alice Quentin, A Killing of Angels, which is just about as far from that disastrous experience as it is possible to be.  Rhodes’ first two published works were collections of poetry and her love of and ability to mould language shows on every page.  As does her erudition.  Her first novel, Crossbones Yard, takes Alice down onto the banks of the Thames where she draws comparison between what can be seen there today and the prints that Whistler made of the same area and published in 1871.  It just so happened that on the very day I was reading that I had been looking at one of those selfsame prints.  It was a lovely moment of  serendipity.

Rhodes can sum up a character of a situation in a single well chosen word. Here she is describing one of the clients of a high class prostitute being observed by Alice towards the end of a particularly nasty case that she has been called in to advise the police on.

A careworn businessman marched up the steps at eight o’clock. He looked like he worked all day at the Treasury, balancing important sums.

It’s all in that last word, isn’t it?  Every ounce of the disdain she has encouraged us to feel about the denizens of the Square Mile, every last inch of the man’s own misplaced sense of importance, is captured in that one word, sums.  It’s simply perfect.

Why is Alice spying on the clients of a highly paid call-girl?  Well, someone is going around killing bankers and people associated with them.  No shortage of suspects there then you might be forgiven for thinking.  But these are all associated with one particular bank, Angel Bank (a misnomer if ever there was one) and as each of the victims is found with a picture of an angel and a sprinkling of white feathers it does seem fairly obvious that this culprit is someone with a specific grudge against one particular institution.

Alice is not yet recovered from the trauma of the Crossbones Yard investigation and still trying desperately to do something to help her brother, Will, whose mental health is parlous but who refuses to take the medication that might keep him on a stable plain.  So, when the hapless detective Don Burns seeks her aid again she is less than happy to offer assistance but as she owes him a favour feels she can’t really say no.  Saying yes, however, brings even more problems than their previous encounter and the situation is not helped by rivalry within police ranks.  Burns does have a habit (albeit unintentional) of rubbing his colleagues up the wrong way.

One of the things I like most about Rhodes’ work is her love of London and the warmth with which she portrays it.  In that she is not unlike Laura Wilson, whose novel, The Riot I wrote about last week.  There is something about the city that seems to bring out the best in those authors who clearly love it and it shines again in this book.

If Rhodes is a new name to you then I would suggest that you begin with the first in the series.  If you’ve read Crossbones Yard and are wondering whether to pick up this second instalment, I would say don’t hesitate.