- Title(s): Ice Blue, Blue Murder, Something Blue
- Author: Emma Jameson
- Series: Lord and Lady Hetheridge Mysteries
- Genre(s): Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
- Publisher: Lyonnesse Books, March 2011
- Source: Purchased ($3.99 for Kindle)
- Length: 170-200 pages
- Trope(s): Age Gap, Smartass Heroine, Repressed Hero, Cops, Misogyny & Racism, Murder & Mayhem
- Quick blurb: Veteran (and titled) Scotland Yard inspector’s world is turned upside down when he brings a foul-mouthed young female onto his team.
- Quick review: Hooked by the brilliant characterization, stayed for the bloody stuff.
- Grade: A- (for the series so far)
The first book in this series popped somewhere in my Amazon recommendations soon after it was published, and I LOVED it without even realizing I’d read the author before. Emma Jameson is a pseudonym of Stephanie Abbott, aka edgy m/m author S.A. Reid (Protection, Something Different). I’m always blown away by writers who can successfully switch genre and voice, and Abbott/Jameson/Reid appears to be phenomenally good at it.
The author labels the Lord and Lady Hetheridge books as “cozy” mysteries, but with the metro London setting and the prickly, smartass professional detective heroine, these books don’t have that Miss Marple/Jessica Fletcher vibe I associate with cozies. There’s just enough blood-and-guts gore and police procedural stuff to sustain the “cynical urban cops” atmosphere, with a few suspenseful gun-in-the-face moments and a charming serial killer to keep everyone from getting too jaded. Book two, Blue Murder, has a particularly good twisty bit at the end.
For me, however, this series is all about the characters.
Anthony Hetheridge, ninth Baron of Wellegrave, Chief Superintendent for New Scotland Yard, never married, no children, no pets, no hobbies, and not even an interesting vice, would turn sixty in three weeks. With the exception of his chosen career, his life had largely gone as others had predicted, without foolishness or significant errors. He had conducted himself with honor, and had even begun to think of himself as one who “held up well” over the years. Growing old did not torment Hetheridge; it was simply part of the graceful arc of his existence. His twenties had been the time for exploration and a thirst for learning; his thirties, for honing his strengths and accepting his weaknesses; his forties, for cool, self-centered joy only true professional mastery can bring. His sixties would be the natural time of decline – retirement, withdrawal into burnished memories, the descending curtain, the snuffed lights. One night, over a gin and tonic garnished with lime, it occurred to him there were dozens of ways to bring down the curtain himself, on his own terms. It was only fleeting, but the unworthiness, the hollow cowardice, startled him. Rarely these days did anything escape his control, even an errant thought.
That was the opening paragraph. I didn’t read any further in the sample before hitting the BUY NOW GIMME GIMME GIMME button.
With the exception of the whole Scotland Yard thing, Hetheridge is straight out of a Regency. His uniform is a bespoke suit, silk tie, Italian shoes, and heirloom cufflinks. His transportation is the back seat of a Bentley driven by Harvey, his devoted valet/chauffeur. He diffuses bellowing arguments with a murmured “I say…” from the sidelines, or an occasional quiet but emphatic “Enough!” His superiors rely on his aristocratic pedigree to “appease the titled and influential.”
What’s really fascinating about Anthony is how he uses his posh background to hold himself aloof from his crass colleagues – not as snobbery, but as a shield against their relentless racism and misogyny and general disgustingness. Anthony accepted long ago that he would be held up as a role model, and he does it with such dignity and never-ending correctness that the worst they can do is call him “Lord” instead of “Chief Superintendent” behind his back.
But this is a novel, so of course something must scuff up his polished veneer before his impending retirement, and her name is Kate.
My God, Hetheridge thought, staring at DS Wakefield. He had heard of her, of course, and had seen her once in passing, at a distance, across the length of a paved lot. But now, within barely an arms-length, he stared at the woman as if he had never been warned of her existence. My God, he thought again. He felt chilled inside, as he had when that oil-smelling Glock appeared in his face, and that merciless finger squeezed the trigger.
Holy hell, I love this woman. Her first line of dialogue is “You’re a plonker!” shrieked at her commanding officer in the echoing marble lobby of New Scotland Yard. Her follow-up report of the incident has just one hand-scrawled word: “Plonker.”¹
Detective Sergeant Kate Wakefield is an East Ender who relies on abrasiveness, a colorful vocabulary and her skills in hand-to-hand combat to survive the bottomless pit of woman-hating in her chosen career. Her fellow officers freely use phrases like “useless mingebag” and “dirty little dyke” and “wonder quim” and “brass-knuckled bitch,” proposition her in pubs and deliberately shut her out of investigations.
One thing I love about these books is that though Kate wears her Don’t Fuck With Me badge around her asshole coworkers, she’s avoided the trap of trying to be “one of the boys.” Kate ignores what she can and fights back when she has too, and it’s fascinating to see her struggle with defining those thresholds.
The lift dinged, and the doors opened on Kate’s floor. Crossing the lift’s threshold, she put her shoulder against its retracted doors and fixed Jackson with a pleading look.
“Now that I’ve been reassigned, I just want to take a moment and publicly ask your forgiveness for saying you had a small penis. A man’s penis size should never be mocked in the workplace. And the way I squeezed my fingers together to indicate something itty-bitty, or just stuck out my pinky finger to symbolize you,” she continued, demonstrating both actions, “was inexcusable. Please forgive me, and understand I’ve learnt my lesson.” With that, Kate released the doors and stepped back. The doors shut, and Superintendent Jackson’s spluttering curses traveled toward the next floor up.
Kate regarded the closed doors for a moment, beginning to blush, as she always did after an impulsive act of defiance. He’d make her pay for that, sooner or later, and probably in a way she could ill-afford. Why did she have to rise to his baiting? Why couldn’t she have the restraint of, say, Hetheridge?
Because I’m not him. I’m Kate, she sighed inwardly, taking a swig of coffee and hurrying toward the Chief’s office. And if he’d lived my life, he’d be a snappish little bitch, too.
At home, Kate is just barely surviving, as she calls it, “quite the buggery bollocks of a family life.” She scarsely has time for self-pity over being dumped by her moocher boyfriend because she’s caring for her eight-year-old nephew and her mentally disabled older brother. We learn more about her family in the second and third books; Kate’s prostitute mother and schizophrenic sister are rather over-the-top, and potentially book-ruining, choices for demonstrating our heroine’s perseverance in overcoming her Tragic White Trash Background. So far, Kate’s sometimes ugly interactions with her fucked-up family are necessary to emphasize the contrast with the hero’s painfully quiet and controlled world, but I think there’s a big danger of them becoming mere caricatures.
¹ “Plonker” is just one new Britishism I learned from this series. It’s very educational.
As she looked down at the street, still bright and busy, Hetheridge doused the room’s single lamp. Shrugging out of his suit jacket, he dropped it on the bedside table. Next came his tie—undone, off. Putting his hands on Kate’s shoulders, he kissed the back of her neck, pressing his lips against one warm, fragrant blond tendril. For a moment she trembled in his grasp, again like a wild creature threatening to bolt. Hetheridge tightened his grip.
“I love you,” he whispered. “God knows I love you.” Kate turned in his arms, kissing him fiercely, and everything else he’d planned to say melted away.
While there’s no on-page sexy times, and there isn’t even much active romancing, we get to see the post-thunderbolt, class- and age-gap, love-in-the-workplace relationship building that’s both mundane and inherent with conflict. Anthony and Kate must explicitly negotiate every step of their relationship – all while investigating gruesome murders and dodging paparazzi outside society parties.
“They think I don’t belong here,” she whispered.
“Nonsense,” Hetheridge said soothingly. “They think you’re drunk.”
The supporting cast….
The other member of CS Hetheridge’s investigative team provides much of the comic relief throughout the books. Again, DS Deepal Bhar could have easily become a superficial Token Multicultural Character, but Jameson creates a memorable and unpredictable personality. He prefers the abbreviation of his name because loves shocking witnesses and perps who don’t expect “Paul Barr” to have brown skin. He unashamedly lives with his divorced mother, who cooks him a traditional Indian dinner every night, no matter what time he gets home. He drives a flashy car, serial-dates former suspects, and uses his killer sarcasm to deflect the endless casual racism that surrounds him every day.
“Just keep your opinions between your ears and off your face. These people are accustomed to having every social entity in their corner. If they sense disapproval from you, they’ll turn to stone before you can cough up the first apology.”
“I know, guv. And I’m ready.” Bhar produced his old-fashioned leather-bound notebook. Flipping back the cover, he turned it so Hetheridge could read the block-printed words inside.
DO NOT SCARE THE WHITE PEOPLE
And when he goes home after a full day of that, he must suffer the indignities of having a self-published romance novelist for a mother. Her increasingly popular book series is titled…wait for it…The Lordly Detective. She’s an active member of the romance-writing community, mass-defriending everyone on Facebook when she gets a bad review and using her writing critique group as a cover for dating a cowboy. I love Paul’s mom.
The other recurring character, however, I’m not quite sure about yet. Sir Duncan Godington was acquitted of the ghastly murders of several family members, and he encourages rumors that he bathes in the blood of his victims.
Sir Duncan is another nearly-stereotypical character – the creepily charming serial killer – but he does provide an interesting foil for Lord Anthony, who seems to be the only one who can see through smugness. I’m curious to see what role Sir Duncan will play in upcoming installments.
The peer pressure….
Read these books. Trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong?