“Come in!” A distinctive accent: transatlantic, possibly Canadian, maybe American. Poppy opened the door.
Her eyes focused through the dim light filtering through a filthy windowpane and she saw a shock of red hair above a moon-shaped face.
“Sorry for the mess. Here, take a seat.”
The red hair moved from behind what Poppy assumed was a desk and lifted a pile of files off a chair. Attached to the head was a very short, squat body. Poppy, who was five foot five, towered above him. Rollo Rolandson – if that’s who it was – couldn’t have been more than four-and-a-half feet tall. He dusted off the chair and turned his moonface up to her with a grin. “Please, Miz Denby, take a seat.”
Poppy did as she was bid and waited for the editor to negotiate the obstacle course back to behind his desk. He picked up a sheet of paper which she recognized as her application form and perused it for a moment, making small grunting noises, and Poppy wasn’t sure whether they were of approval or disdain.
“You are a little sketchy on your experience here, Miz Denby.” He pronounced the Miss with a ‘z’.
Poppy cleared her throat. “I have worked in a mission.”
“A Methodist Mission?”
“That’s correct.” Poppy kept her voice neutral, hoping to deflect the prejudice she was used to whenever anyone heard she attended a non-conformist church.
“So how do you feel about alcohol?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Alcohol, Miz Denby. I do believe the Methodists are prohibitionists.”
“That’s not entirely true, sir. Not as a rule of faith. Although a lot of Methodists are teetotallers and support temperance programmes. They have seen the damage alcohol can cause to individuals, families and communities.”
He raised his hand. […] “I don’t need a lesson in do-goodism, Miz Denby – I want to know whether you personally approve or disapprove of alcohol.”
Poppy cleared her throat and chose her words carefully. “Well, sir, I don’t have a problem with it in principle. I’ve even been known to have a glass of champagne myself.”
“Excellent!” Rollo threw his hands in the air and brought them crashing down on his desk. A precarious pile of files wobbled. Poppy reached out a hand to steady them.
Rollo grinned. “And that, Miz Denby, is why I need an assistant. Your first job will be to organize this office. Can you do that?”
Poppy looked around at the clutter that threatened to engulf them both. […] It was not quite the cutting-edge job in journalism that she had hoped for, but it was a start.
She nodded decisively. “Yes, Mr Rolandson. I can do that.”
“Excellent!” he said again. But this time he stopped before he slapped down his hands. Instead he reached one over the desk. “Welcome to The Globe, Miz Denby.”
It is 1920. Twenty-two year old Poppy Denby moves from Northumberland to live with her paraplegic aunt in London. Aunt Dot, a suffragette who was injured in battles with the police in 1910, is a feisty and well-connected lady.
Poppy has always dreamed of being a journalist, and quickly lands a position as an editorial assistant at the Daily Globe. Then one of the paper’s hacks, Bert Isaacs, dies suddenly and messily. Poppy and photographer Daniel Rokeby (with whom Poppy has an immediate and mutual attraction) begin to wonder if Bert was pushed. His story was going to be the morning lead, but he hasn’t finished writing it. Poppy finds his notes and completes the story, which is a sensation.
The Globe’s editor, realising her valuable suffragette contacts, invites her to dig deeper. Poppy starts sifting through the dead man’s files and unearths a major mystery which takes her to France–and abruptly into danger.
As a fan of detective/mystery stories set in and around this era (eg. Christie, Sayers, Heyer) I was keen to check out this new offering in the genre, but I have come away slightly disappointed. The mystery was well plotted, but it wasn’t the sort of novel where I could say, “I couldn’t put it down.”
‘Jazz Files’ is the name given by The Globe’s editor, Rollo, to ‘any story that has a whiff of high society scandal, but can’t yet be proven.’ In this case wealthy peer, Lord Melvyn Dorchester, is giving off more than just a whiff, and the deeper Poppy digs, the stronger the odour. Also caught up in this mystery are the Chelsea Six – a group of suffragettes including Dorchester’s wife and daughter, along with Poppy’s own aunt, Dot, and Dot’s friend Grace. One member dead, one confined to a mental hospital, another chairbound. And now it would seem one of them may have been a traitor to them all.
There was all the potential here for a great read, but the pacing seemed slow to me. I thought the narrative tended to get sidetracked by unnecessary details or explanations, and the writing felt a little leaden overall. I’m not sure I can explain it better than that. Whether it was weak verb choices, or simply uneconomical word choices, I don’t know. There was also a lot of telling where showing would have been better, something which always takes the edge off a story for me.
In saying this, it wasn’t a hardship to finish the book and I will probably check out the next one in the series to see where it goes, but neither was it the engrossing reading experience I was hoping for.
Thank you to Lion Publishing for providing me with a copy of this novel in return for an honest review.
Page count: 320 pages
Release date: 18 September 2015
Publisher: Lion Fiction
Series website: http://www.poppydenby.com/