Saturday, March 11, 2017

Last Rights: Barbara Nadel

Last Rights is the first book in a series featuring Francis Hancock, an undertaker living in the East End of London. Francis is mixed race, the child of a white man and an Indian mother. His grandfather and his father before him had been undertaker's, and Francis took over the business when his father died. He has horrible memories of fighting in the first World War, and has had psychological problems since that time.

The story is set in 1940, during the Blitz. During the air raids, Francis cannot bear to stay in shelters. During one of the raids, he runs into a man who complains of being stabbed by a woman, but there is no visible wound or blood. Later the body of the same man turns up on his undertaker's table, and Francis sees the evidence of a wound that is not the  result of the bombing. The police would just as soon brush it under the table, with all the problems they have at this time, but they end up looking into the death. As a result, a person is charged, but Francis believes that she is innocent. The majority of the story is about his quest to find out the truth.

It is the historical setting and the picture of how ordinary people's lives were affected by the Blitz that I enjoyed the most about this book. Barbara Nadel was born in the East End. In an interview at Crime Beat she states that her grandfather, a World War One veteran who suffered from shellshock,  experienced many of the problems that her protagonist did.

Nadel also notes in an interview at Matt Rees's blog:
My father experienced the Blitz when he was a child and although the Hancock books do tell of the heroism of that time, they also aim to tell it like it was too. Francis Hancock’s world is therefore one of privation, dirt, anxiety and sometimes madness.
As much as I liked the historical setting, I did have some problems with the book. I did not warm up to the characters in Last Rights. The story is told in first person by Francis. Although he is an interesting character, I did not get involved with his story. I think the characters portrayed were realistic and probably typical of people who lived at the time in that area of London; yet, I did not grow to care about them as the story progressed. I also found the mystery plot to be overly complex, drawn out, and not always believable.

As a summary I would say this is a very good depiction of London during the Blitz, and it also included insights into the issues in the poorer areas of London and the racial and ethnic prejudices which were common at that time. The setting and how well it was portrayed was the primary attraction for me; I am glad I read the book, regardless of my criticisms.

Reading this book prompted me to start reading The Blitz: The British Under Attack by Juliet Gardiner. I read Wartime Britain 1939-1945 by the same author (review here), and the three chapters on the Blitz were the hardest to read in that book.

Barbara Nadel's first series, which is still ongoing, is about Çetin İkmen, a chain-smoking and hard-drinking detective on the Istanbul police force. A third series began in 2012; the books are set in present day London, and feature a Private Investigator, Lee Arnold, and his assistant, Mumtaz Hakim.


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Publisher:  Headline, 2006. Orig. pub. 2005.
Length:     333 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Francis Hancock, #1
Setting:     UK, London
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy. 

13 comments:

  1. Oh, this book does sound interesting, Tracy, just on that historical score. And somehow, I think it's interesting to have an undertaker as the protagonist. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. It is interesting, Margot, and if I run into copies of any others in the series at the book sale, I will try them out. Undertaking was different in London at that time (as far as I can tell from this book) and I would love to read more about that.

      I did find a link about undertakers in mysteries here...
      http://www.mysteryfile.com/FuneralHomes.html

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  2. Now I'm conflicted - the general setup is very appealing, just the kind of book I like. But your reservations are exactly those that would put me off. Now what am I supposed to do ;)?

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    1. I don't know, Moira. The reason I stated my criticisms so strongly was because I did not want to lead anyone to a book that they would dislike. Some reviewers liked this book a lot. Others had the same concerns I did. I would love to know what you think as far as the handling of period detail because you know far more about that than I do.

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  3. I just wanted to stop by and say I've started a new blog.
    www.nancyelin.wordpress.com
    I took 4 week break.....but am blogging again!

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    1. Good to hear from you, Nancy. I visited your new blog and enjoyed the posts, especially the first one. I will be adding that blog to my blog list (and updating a few others that are missing or out of date).

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  4. Tracy, you haven't convinced me to go and seek this one out - probably a good thing!

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    1. I understand, Col. I have not read the other two series by this author but I have heard very good things about them. I have the first book in her Istanbul series to try.

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  5. Tracy, this sounds good. I haven't read a lot of novels set during the London Blitz. I can overlook less-than-average characters if the story has me by the eyeballs.

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    1. I have read other mysteries set during the London Blitz, Prashant, but none of them focus so much on the actual raids and the aftereffects and the horrors of it.

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  6. I read an article that Chelsea Clinton enjoyed Nadel so I picked up a few to try. --Keishon

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    1. That is interesting, Keishon. I am looking forward to trying the other two series. I hope you like the books that you found. Let me know.

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