by Jo Bannister
Cover Artist: Photo: Joan Vincent Canto Roig/Getty Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250071774
Date: 11 November 2014 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In the small, British town of Norbold, the lonely, withdrawn Gabriel Ash has been nicknamed Rambles with Dogs because he converses with his dog, Patience. Ash is attacked by teenage thugs and given a prison cell in Meadowvale until he can recover from a slight concussion. While behind bars, he befriends a black law student, Jerome Cardy, who is afraid he is going to be murdered. Jerome's fears come true when he is locked inside a cell with a crazed racist, Barking Mad Barclay. With the aid of an attractive police constable, Hazel Best, Ash investigates Jerome's murder and uncovers a conspiracy that could destroy more lives, including their own.
Jo Bannister's Deadly Virtues is a tense, provocative noir involving racism. There are tense moments throughout the novel when lead characters are shockingly and brutally murdered or kidnapped. There is one scene of torture that is quite disturbing and is not intended for young readers or the squeamish. What distinguishes this mystery from the rest of the pack is the lead character, the suffering Gabriel Ash; he has been leading a dog's life for the past four years because of a tragic event that is shrouded in mystery for much of the novel. At the prompting of a friendly psychiatrist, Laura Fey, Ash adopted a female lurcher and named her Patience. He speaks to her, which isn't odd in itself; however, he can hear her reply.
Initially, I found it unbelievable that someone would risk their reputation and livelihood to kill someone because their skin is of a different color. This is the twenty-first century. I thought racism and bigotry were passť. Then I realized that, the criminal element, which tends to be lesser educated and more ruthless, is always determined to find reasons to hate others who are different. Deadly Virtues definitely has a theme of prejudice. First, among a few citizens of Norbold, there is the hatred of Jerome Cardy because he is black. However, there is a more widespread prejudice of Gabriel Ash because he talks to his pet. Because of this prejudice, Ash is nicknamed Rambles with Dogs and is nearly killed by punks. However, in various degrees, we all have prejudices.
Gabriel Ash has a heart of gold. Despite ridiculing and beatings from the town people, he is determined to find Jerome's killer. He could've left Meadowvale the night Jerome was killed and never mentioned to anyone the cryptic message that he was told. However, Ash refused to allow past tragedies to influence him. He is truly an angel who has risen from the ashes of disaster. Also, Constable Hazel Best is truly the best officer at Meadowvale for risking life and reputation when announcing to the investigating authorities that there may be rogue cops at Meadowvale. She, like Ash, is destined to become a pariah among her coworkers. During their investigation, Ash and Best develop a strong friendship that leads to romance. I'd love to see them sleuthing together in a sequel.
Fans of William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie will enjoy Deadly Virtues. The lead characters must analyze Shakespeare's Othello in order to understand the cryptic message that Jerome Cardy left with Ash before he was murdered. If you recall, Othello involves a black general who strangled his white wife because his evil cohort convinced him she was unfaithful. I mention Agatha Christie because several of her novels involved murderers having the ability to be in more than one place when someone is murdered; They Do It with Mirrors is a prime example. A similar incident occurs in Deadly Virtues. My only complaint with this novel was the ending, which was rather drawn out; surviving characters kept debating and arguing on the stories they would tell to the investigators. Otherwise, Deadly Virtues was an enjoyable read and I look forward to Jo Bannister's next mystery.