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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Review of The Doll Makers by Penny Grubb

I met the wonderfully idiosyncratic heroine, Annie Raymond, in Penny’s first detective novel, Like False Money, and enjoyed her doubts, courage and intelligence there. In The Doll Makers, Annie travels from her new post in London to visit her father in Scotland and Penny Grubb highlights the contrasts between the noise and claustrophobia of the capital and the space and relative peace of a small Scottish loch-side town.
The story holds the reader’s interest from the start and keeps a tight grip on it to the last word. Penny has a way of getting inside the heads and hearts of her characters to bring them to life. Even her villains carry characteristics that make the reader care what happens. But it is Annie who we really empathise with, in spite of her faults, irritabilities, occasional snap judgements and chaotic domestic lifestyle, or maybe because of these. Her quick wits, intelligence, bravery and determination drive the story, with its multiple threads, racing us from chapter to chapter, anxious to know what happens next and eager to identify the real villains amongst the panoply of potential candidates.
There are surprises, shocks and moments of sudden illumination in the twists and turns of the plot so that it becomes difficult to put the book down. I was forced by circumstances to read the book in two sessions but would have read from beginning to end without interruption had it been possible. Such is the developing pace of the story that the reader becomes emotionally engaged in the ever more complex puzzles that lead Annie into great peril. The reader is given clues denied the detective and this makes for tension as we see her stepping toward dangers we know of but to which she is blind. Clues are scattered throughout the narrative for the reader to solve the puzzles, but the solution is not easy and I was surprised by the denouement, though it was, in the end, the only possible outcome.
Penny handles scenes of danger particularly well, injecting feelings of fear, anxiety and doubt into the story so that the reader is drawn into the created world. Her meticulous research takes us inside real buildings with Annie, along real streets and into real woodland with her, to perilous drops where we hold our breath and into peaceful glades, where we rest for a while as she ruminates.
The Doll Makers is not simply a damned good read, it is an experience shared with the indomitable Annie as she moves through curiosity, incomprehension, disappointment, betrayal and growing enlightenment to a conclusion that is scary, intense and inevitable. If you enjoy your crime spiced with a mixture of gritty realism, humour, human failings and intelligence, this is definitely a book for you. I don’t generally read crime fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it.
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