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This novel is full of interesting characters - but not too many for you to keep tabs on - and they're introduced gradually. (I hate it when you meet so many people in Chapter One that you're lost from then on! I think that's bad writing and inconsiderate so far as the reader is concerned.)
I promise this glimpse of the characters does not contain any plot spoilers! But when you're reading the novel, it might just be fun to take a glance at what I imagine they look like. (I certainly enjoyed picking the images to go with the characters.) I believe it's strong characterisation that makes a novel memorarable.
might be the driving force in a story, but strong
characters are needed to engage the reader.
"The plot is very well conceived, with multiple threads to keep the suspense, but it's the characters that really made this a special read for me. Too often characters come across as wooden or generic but Ian Kingsley really brings them to life, warts and all."
-Avid Reader's comments on this novel (Amazon.com)
So who are these characters?
Jennifer Lloyd, a former newspaper reporter, is the protagonist and narrator of this novel. Now she has advanced to become a television presenter specialising in outside broadcast work. She is beautiful, blonde, fiercely ambitious, willing to bend the rules slightly to get what she wants, emotionally-scarred from being sexually abused in a children's home (by Fergus), untrustful of men (as a result), flirty, a liker of vodka (although it often loosens her tongue a little too much).
She was spotted as a suitable media presenter by her now boss, Eric Brush. He was interested in using her as a presenter for promotional videos for hotels and the like, but she soon got into freelance work for the British Broadcasting Corporation; she now disdains making promotional videos and wants to make it big in television. The trouble is, she claimed to have a Masters Degree in Ecology on the CV the BBC have seen - despite the fact this is purely fictional. She fears her career will be on the line if they ever find this out. And that is why she plans to make a dramatic exposé of a murder live, on-camera. She figures fame will secure her career in television. At present she is winging it by doing internet research before assignments. Jen can be quite cunning!
She studied a book on body language as a child and used the knowledge to get the upper-hand with her peers. She now uses the same skills to break down barriers with interviewees and to figure out when they're lying. It proved very useful as a reporter, and is proving even more useful when carrying out television interviews.
She is a risk-taker (despite inherent dangers), but believes she can take care of herself due to her "womanly wiles" and her recently acquired kick-boxing skills; actually, she's pretty much right there. She developed a tough persona while in the children's home in order to survive, but inside she is really vulnerable, and limits her relationships and disclosures to a few people she can really trust. That just about limits it to her best friend, Ami Tan, with whom she shared a room at the home, and YOU! Yes, she will confide in YOU! She needs friendship with someone reliable: like you. She will even let you call her 'Jen' - and only a very few people are permitted that privilege!
There is another person with whom she can let her guard down with, and that's Susie. See below to find out who she is! (There might be others when she has a few too many drinks, but that's life. It doesn't happen too often.) Which brings us to Josh, the cameraman she often works with. A handsome lad, and one who clearly dotes on her. And wants more of her. But Jen is afraid of getting too close with men because of her past. Yes, she trusts Josh - she needs Josh - a lot - but is a relationship with a work colleague really a good idea? What if it goes wrong? He's both good at his work... and, actually, quite easy to manipulate.
Jen's mother died in an accident when she was three, and her father then abandoned her. One of her many ambitions is to catch up with him and give him a piece of her mind. (Pity him! She's never short of words in a tight spot.)
Jen lives in a studio flat in Christchurch, Dorset, in the UK. Her movements around the area are real to the setting. (I've even devised a couple of walks you can follow to see the actual area in which this novel is set.) She also stays overnight at Solent House from time to time... feeling very grand. It's something she really relishes, and she is able to stroll around both the public and private gardens.
Jen has a laconic sense of humour that's always coming to the fore. As her friend, you'll soon appreciate it and figure out how her mind works.
Jen also has three different names: Mandy Sutton, Sadie, and Jennifer LLoyd. Why? You'll need to read the book to find that one out!
Susie is a cheeky little miniature poodle. She is based on my own - differently-named - poodle, so her characteristics are quite real and well-known! Poodles, by the way, are generally regarded as the closest you can get to human character in the dog world. Which does not make them the easiest of pets to control. They have very strong wills and imagine they are miniature people!
Susie is the love of Jen's life and, for a dog, she plays an important role in the story.
(Where I can, I like to include a dog in my fiction. There was also a very important dog in Sandman.)
Ami is Jen's best friend and confidant. She is very pithy in her speech, and that stems from her initial limited vocabulary.
She was orphaned when her parents took a shortcut across the lines at Southampton railway station. Unfortunately a train passed by before they made it to the opposite platform. Jen took her under he wing, they shared a bedroom in the children's home, and they are as close as thieves. (Not that they steal anything, of course.)
She lives in Southampton and works in a Chinese restaurant there. It's an easy train trip to Christchurch so she is always popping down to see her great friend, Jen. She also loves little Susie to bits.
Ami comes in very hand when Jen wants a second opinion on anything - and that's quite often, when the going gets tough. You'll like Ami.
Fergus was the assistant manager at the children's home where Jen spent much of her childhood. In those days he was more bristle that beard and he earned the nickname of 'Desperate Dan'. (Once a character in a British children's comic. Apparently, Desperate Dan could lift a cow in one hand - and was very partial to "cow pie".) Could be that Fergus likes that, too. He's still very strong - although Jen can always find his weak spots!
Fergus sexually abused more than one girl in the home, but he bit off a bit more than he could chew with Jen. (Actually, she was the one to do the biting, but you'll find out more about that in the book.) Bristling with resentment because he lost his job because of Jen's actions, he emerges from her past to become her nemesis once again. (As if Jen didn't have enough problems.)
Digby is the owner of the Dorset house and gardens attraction called Solent House and Gardens. One evening, his wife, Dorothy, drowned while out alone in a rowing boat on their lake. But was she really alone? The evidence suggests otherwise. And why did the police find strange abrasions around her ankles if she just fell overboard, cracking her head on the side, as the post-mortem suggested.
Things had not been smooth between Digby and Dorothy for years - even since the birth of son Robin, with Down's syndrome - and it seemed her death might have been quite convenient for Digby. But although the police suspected him of murder, he was quickly released due to lack of evidence. But why does he no longer frequent his beautiful gardens and chat with visitors like he used to do? Why has be become a virtual recluse and a hoarder? And why did his handyman, Toma, disappear on the same night that Dorothy died? Even more strange, why did their pet dog also die on the same night? Three coincidences like that are way too much for Jen to accept!
Jen rather gets to like Digby. It's hard to believe he could have murdered his wife - despite the fact he had every reason to hate her. Why? Guess what? You'll find out in the book!
Vera is Digby's cook and housekeeper. She defends Digby like a guard-dog and is highly suspicious of Jen's true motives. She can't believe Jen is only interested in the gardens and how Digby's family developed them. Perhaps not surprising, given they were inundated by the media while Digby was under suspicion. She suspects Jen's cunning is getting under Digby's radar for trouble. And she'd be right!
Vera's aggression is quite clear at times. So there's not much chance she and Jen will even become pally!
Vera does have a soft-spot for Robin, however, and she acts as a surrogate mother. He needs keeping an eye on, and a biscuit or piece of cake always seem to have a calming effect when Robin resorts to tears. Which is quite often.
Vera is happily divorced!
Robin, aged thirteen, is Digby's son. He has Down's syndrome, much to the displeasure of Digby's late wife, Dorothy. (It appears to Jen that Dorothy took it as a personal affront that her genes dared do this to her.)
A happy lad, Robin is home-tutored by Fiona. He has a wonderful place to grow up in, but what of the future for the estate, given Robin is Digby's only descendent?
And what does Robin know about what happened on the night of Dorothy's death? Jen figures that Robin might be the weakest link to finding out. The trouble is, one of the characteristics of Down's syndrome is their strong wish to please - even if that leads to the odd lie. It makes Robin the ultimate unreliable witness!
Eric owns Broad Brush Media and is Jen's immediate boss. With a humorous trait as laconic as Jen's, they make good sparring partners. Jen is a breath of fresh air when she breezes into the office in Salisbury.
Jen pitches her idea of producing a documentary about Digby Barrington-Smith and his gardens, explaining that her aim is to dramatically expose him as a murderer in a dramatic final scene. But Eric is not one for non-commissioned work. He needs to see where the money is coming from. Jen explains she want to copy the way Martin Bashir befriended Michael Jackson, leading to his exposure.
Eric spluttered with amusement. ‘You’re not Bashir. And Bashir worked with Michael Jackson. Hello?’
It was so amusing when Eric tried to be cool. He must be in his mid-fifties at least. Hello? But I let it go.
Against Eric's natural instinct, Jen manages to scrounge a small budget out of him and promises that working on the Digby project won't impinge on her work for the BBC. Which it doesn't. As you will discover, Jen has a very busy life. Thanks to her emotionally-damaged life so far, though, she is quite happy to focus on her career for now.
Chief Inspector Freddy Moore led the case into the suspicious death of Dorothy and the disappearance of Digby's Serbian handyman, Toma. It all began with Digby on television asking for his handyman, Toma, to come forward. It seemed like he wants to throw any suspicion in Toma's direction. But the police didn't believe this. A spouse is always first in the frame for them, and Digby appeared to be crying crocodile tears during his television appeal. (We've all seen that kind of thing before.) That's what the newspapers thought, as well, and they pilloried Digby. Which explains why Digby is not best friends with the media any more - and why it took a lot of persuasion and Jen's "womanly wiles" to get into the house to interview and film him.
The inquest into the death of Dorothy plumped for accidental death - after which the police closed the case due to lack of evidence. But when Jen approaches Freddy Moore for background information and tells him of her plan to catch Digby unawares, he rather likes the idea. He'd like to nail Digby: no matter how. But he didn't realise how cunning Jen can be, and how she would always manage to stay one step ahead of him, with her sights set on a dramatic television moment. His annoyance with her is only tempered by a hidden admiration for her style... and, maybe, her body.
Josh is a cameraman who often works with Jen. They make a good working partnership, but clearly Josh would like it to go far beyond that. Yet Jen treats him more like a big brother. Very frustrating, but he never gives up. Maybe one day he'll get through her defences. (Probably a day when she's had a drink too many.)
Carl, 17, spotty, tall and lanky son of Dorothy and her ex-husband, is suspicious of Jennifer and realises it would be best to get her to go away. Yet he secretly quite fancies her, and that factor means he's willing to talk with her, against his better judgement. Jennifer, always ready to employ her feminine wiles, takes advantage of this hold over him. But all does not go well in his relationship with Jen.
Mike is Attractions Manager at Solent House and Gardens - and, incidentally, a bit of an attraction - and distraction - for Jen. Using her feminine wiles on him has ramifications. At times he seems her ally - and, at others, not so much. It's a kind of love-hate relationship.
Once upon a time, in her former career as a reporter on a Bournemouth newspaper, Jen took a call from a guy who claimed to have murdered his girlfriend. He wanted to talk, and Jen was there in a moment, with her notebook. Although she didn't really believe him, his claim proved to be correct. And when she marched him round to the police station to hand himself in, it was PC Martin Flowers they met. Jen is never one to let a potentially useful contact slip, and she detected some magnetism, but it took three years before she called upon Flowers for help in a little undercover work... on a promise. A promise of what? Clearly Flowers expects more than Jen is prepared to give but, as always, Jen gets her way.
It was while being interviewed by a television news crew in Christchurch about this incident that Eric Brush saw - and poached - her: for a new career in the media.
Fiona is Robin's tutor, and she lives-in at Solent House.. And she's someone young for Jen to be friends with - and to use while digging for facts. Fiona seems nice enough, and is well loved by the family, but Jen finds it rather strange she has taken over Toma's phone!
Jack plays guitar and sings country music is pubs. Some days, Jen joins him for part of the act and sings: just for relaxation and free drinks. Jack - The Beard - also pays her a little, too - but it's not the money she's interested in. To tell the truth, she likes performing, whether on television or live. It's a pleasant distraction for her. But it's also how Fergus connects with her again when he spots her singing in a bar. So not a good result for Jen!
Sutton is Jen's father. From time to time she tries to track him down to find out what really happened when her mother died. And to ask him why he abandoned her. ("Ask" is putting it a bit mildly.) No one ever told her straight how her mother died, although she believes it was the result of a road accident. Yet there are conflicting aspects of what she has been able to pull together. But finding her father has failed a few times before and it is definitely on the back-burner - until a certain friendly policeman gives her a breakthrough!
Eric Brush is all very well when it comes to getting her a few TV assignments, but he seems to be getting rusty, and Jen feels she is hitting the big time. So when flamboyant London agent Roberta Roberts approaches her to take her on, it is an offer that Jen can hardly refuse. Roberta has good contacts in the television industry and she loves the sound of Jen's Digby project. But Jen has loyalties to Eric. What to do? What do you think?
Toma was handyman/chauffeur at the house. Oddly, he disappeared the same night that Dorothy drowned in the lake. That might not be too surprising, given he was an illegal Serbian immigrant, but his wife, Senka, now living in Southampton, thinks it more than strange that he no longer communicates with her. And before that night he regularly sent her money. Since that night there has been nothing!
Could Toma have been killed? If so, where is his body? Was he a murderer? Was there one murder or two? One murderer or two?