Probably like most people, I always associate Oxford with education and in recent times with the development of a Covid vaccine. But in terms of literature and in particular crime fiction, whenever someone mentions the city, I think of the Inspector Morse books, as well as the hugely successful TV series and its spin-off Endeavour series. So I was delighted when I got sent a copy of the third Johnson and Wilde mystery series. This months Third book review is Oxford Blues by Andy Griffee and published by Orphans publishing (www.orphanspublishing.co.uk) in July.
Jack Johnson is suffering from a severe case of the boating blues as we join him aboard Jumping Jack Flash in Oxford. He has moved there following his erstwhile companion, Nina Wilde. Nina’s niece, Anna, has recently started studying in Oxford and Nina has moved to be near her. Jack hopes they can have a fresh start but finds they’re drifting apart. He throws himself into a new job and makes friends amongst his boating neighbours. Then a young woman’s body is pulled from Iffley Lock. The victim’s boyfriend is a good friend of Anna. Nina, who is still grieving the loss of her husband is keen to support him. Reluctantly, Jack is pulled into the investigation.
Followers of this blog will know I previously reviewed the first of the series, ‘Canal Pushers’. As a former boater myself, I was impressed with the technical explanations and representations of the joys and hardships of living on the water. I haven’t boated around Oxford, but I’ve experienced some river cruising around York and Cambridge. Being at the whim of the river in terms of currents, tides and floods made for interesting and testing times and sometimes inventive boat handling techniques. I recall a boating holiday around York one winter. We’d cruised up the river Ouse ok, then spent some time on the Ripon Canal, during which it snowed. We thought nothing of it until we wanted to re-join the Ouse and found it in full flood. Trying to close the lock gates at the end of the canal where the two water courses met was a nightmare, due to the strong river current and that the landing stage where I planned to hop back aboard was under several feet of water. I remember some scary acrobatic climbing down onto the boat with the gates open. I was always afraid of weirs, and to a certain extent locks. I can remember being concerned that we’d be pulled onto the weirs rather than being able to take the safe channel around. What a holiday! Even currently, any nightmarish dreams involve floods, water crossings, weirs and locks! All thrilling enough without murder and intrigue thrown in!
The job of freelance journalist and the use of a narrowboat are ideal vehicles for this crime series. They allow the story to move to different settings easily and for the main character to have both nose for trouble and an insight into how to investigate. The fact that Andy Griffee has experience, both as a journalist and boater, shines through. Everything rings true and doesn’t seem forced or unbelievable. I loved the addition of a few new characters to the story, who I hope will reappear in future adventures. There was some humour again here. Andy Griffee seems to have a fixation with naturists! Perhaps that’s another life experience he’s drawing on? Who knows! There was also some moments of well written tension, that got my heart thumping, as well as the will they, wont they aspect of Jack’s romantic interest in Nina. Certainly, there were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.
This is English Author Andy Griffee’s (www.andygriffee.co.uk) third book, his others are Canal Pushers (2019) and Riiver Rats (2020). A former journalist with the Bath Chronic;le and 25 year stint as a regional controller with the BBC, he finished his career in charge of the redevelopment of the BBC’s iconic Broadcasting House in London. He lives in Worcestersire with his wife and three dogs, where he also rears rare pigs and maintains a 1964 triumph spitfire.
I’d highly recommended Oxford Blues to other crime readers. You could read this as a standalone but it’s well worth acquainting yourselves with the previous books. I’m already looking forward to number four. So cast off to your local bookseller and hook yourself a copy.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy