Friday, 14 October 2016

The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne by Andrew Nicoll

review by Maryom

The small town of Broughty Ferry is a gentile, refined place - not like the city of Dundee "that sink of iniquity and depravity" just a few miles further along the coast - so its inhabitants and police force are especially shocked when Jean Milne, an elderly spinster, is found murdered in her own home, the victim of a frenzied attack. Alerted by the postman who notices Miss Milne's mail hasn't been moved for several days, if not weeks, Sergeant John Fraser is one of the first upon the scene and starts to gather evidence and witness statements, but, determined to resist the interference of the Dundee police, Broughty's Chief Constable Sempill calls in a renowned investigator from Glasgow, Detective Lieutenant Trench, a man who very quickly decides the frenzied attack must be the work of a foreigner or a maniac. The facts gathered quickly lead to a supposition that Jean Milne had a younger man, assumed to be her lover, staying with her at the time of her murder - and soon the hunt is on for him.

Based on a true unsolved case of 1912, this story gives an interesting glimpse into police methods in an almost 'modern' setting within the context of a compelling whodunnit read. The hunt for the murderer takes Sempill to London and Antwerp, following clues, conducting identity parades, and checking alibis - you might be tempted to think it unrealistic and far-fetched if the story weren't based on police records from the time! To a regular crime reader, it's obvious that the police haven't attempted to follow up on all of the clues but instead spent too much time trying to make evidence fit their sole suspect. Nicoll's interpretation of the 'ignored' evidence is interesting but even so I wasn't quite convinced with his version of events. That wasn't anything to disrupt my enjoyment of the novel though.
Nicoll does an excellent job of capturing the feel of a small early twentieth century town, the pride its police force has in being at the forefront of modern methods and techniques - the use of fingerprints, telephones and telegrams to aid their investigation - and its use of the press to inform, misinform and seek witnesses. In some ways, I wish it hadn't been a 'true crime', but that there could have been further investigations for Sergeant Fraser and Detective Trench. 

Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher -  Black and White Publishing
Genre - historical crime

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