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Fatal Solution

Leslie Scase
ISBN-13: 
9781781726181
Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 6, 2021
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£9.99

In this new mystery Inspector Chard is confronted with another murder in bustling Victorian Pontypridd. On the face of it the case appears unremarkable, even if it isn’t obviously solvable, but following new leads takes Chard into unexpected places. A second murder, a sexual predator, industrial espionage and a mining disaster crowd into the investigation, baffling the Inspector and his colleagues and putting his own life at risk as the murderer attempts to avoid capture.

Once again Leslie Scase takes the reader back to a time and place where, despite the pretensions of Victorian society, life is cheap and passions strong. His research brings Pontypridd vividly to life, and historical events drive along the plot of this page-turning story of detection, as Chard navigates a way through the clues and red herrings, and a lengthening list of suspects, towards the poisoner.

Atmospheric, authentic, Chard and the reader are left guessing until the final page.

REVIEWS

Review by Gemma Pearson, Wales Arts Review

Monday, August 2, 2021

On the 23rd of June 1894, deep underground in the choking confines of the Albion Colliery, tragedy struck the mining village of Cilfynydd. In this small community just two miles north of Pontypridd, an explosion during the night shift resulted in the death of 290 men and boys; almost everyone in the area lost a father, son, brother, or friend. Set two years after the accident, Leslie Scase’s latest release, Fatal Solution, is a fastidiously researched mystery novel that follows as Pontypridd’s Inspector Chard navigates a series of scandalous crimes in an area still healing from the trauma of industrial disaster.

Published earlier this summer by Seren, Fatal Solution is the second instalment of the ‘Inspector Chard’ series, of which there is to be seven volumes. A promising indicator of what is to come, the pages of Fatal Solution teem with a bustling sense of community. Bringing the idiosyncrasies of Victorian Wales to life with a historian’s eye, Scase includes real, obsolete pub names and familiar landmarks alongside the classic, gloomy imagery of horse-drawn carriages, narrow streets lit by gas lamps, and men with monocles and moustaches. There is also a strong sense of Welsh identity, offset by Chard’s English background: “From an inauspicious start in Pontypridd, becoming embroiled in a brawl on his first night, he had through luck as much as judgment, been given credit for solving a number of serious crimes. From disorientated English outsider in this close knit, rather strange community, he had become thoroughly assimilated.”

With transportive accuracy and attention to detail readers, like Chard, are welcomed to Pontypridd – “or Ponty as it was often known” – to drink with the locals in the Ivor Arms, to watch rugby at Taff Vale Park, and to accompany Inspector Chard on his intriguing investigations.

Chard’s first assignment is to investigate the discovery of a body in a burnt-out workshop. Next, two men are poisoned in the local tearoom and a sex worker is murdered in her home. Is there a connection? Is it perhaps something to do with the Barry Railway Co. and the Taff Vale Railway, two competing rail networks embroiled in a clandestine gang-style conflict? Or is Pontypridd at the mercy of a vicious serial murderer? As Chard’s list of suspects and motives lengthens, readers are led through a series of clever red herrings before the truth is finally revealed. 

It cannot go unsaid, however, that there are elements of this novel that might prove challenging for some readers, namely violent scenes of rape and drug-facilitated sexual assault. In addition, Scase’s novel contains very few female characters in comparison to the copious amount of (sometimes indistinguishable) male characters. What is more, the women that do crop up in Fatal Solution almost all fit into narrow and slightly frustrating stereotypes: the whore, the widow, and the love interest. 

Nevertheless, combining his passions for local history and the classic detective story, Scase’s well-paced mystery succeeds in its mission to keep readers guessing until the very last pages. 

Review by Artis-Ann, Yorkshire Times

Friday, June 11, 2021

I always enjoy a new murder mystery, especially getting to know the new detective on the case and this one did not disappoint. This is the second of the Inspector Chard crime series which promises to run to seven volumes, giving the author plenty of scope to develop characters and perhaps to introduce some recurring themes and relationships.

Set in Victorian Wales, in the Valleys to be more precise, Inspector Thomas Chard is something of an interloper in the close knit community of Pontypridd, given that he’s from Shropshire. With the backdrop of the mining industry, and the raw grief of people who have lost fathers and sons, brothers and uncles in ‘accidents’ below ground, there is rivalry between railway firms fighting for control of the hugely lucrative Welsh rail industry, and members of the board seeking to line their own pockets in the process. Industrial espionage and three deaths present Chard with plenty of work. Which is not to mention there’s also a sexual predator in the area, with a particularly gruesome appetite, and an unhealthy protection racket leaving its mark, both literally and metaphorically. How much more can be heaped on the plate of one man?

A body found in a burned out workshop, two businessmen poisoned and the savage murder of a prostitute, all in quick succession, tax the detective’s mind. Are they linked? Motive, means and opportunity elude Chard, at first.

Was the fire accidental? Was it the beer or the cake – or something else entirely? Who can be so brutal to a fellow human being? As all available evidence is pursued, the list of suspects grows. In true murder mystery style, the culprit is not the first to be accused, nor the easiest to predict, and the denouement is tinged with sadness. While not all the threads are neatly bound by the end, there is a particularly satisfying sense of karma for the reader as one of the more grotesque characters pays his dues. The final twist in this complicated tale emerges on the final page. Do not read it first!

Chard himself is a man of many parts, a man of the people who knows the value of listening to the locals, as well as mixing with the more affluent and high-ranking members of the community. He is hard working and pays attention to detail. His romantic dalliance reminds us that he’s also a healthy, red-blooded male. However, his affair is more of a vehicle to illustrate the ineptness of his superior, a man who takes his responsibility very seriously but who, despite good intentions, shouldn’t really be let loose on the case. The constables indulge in their own jealousies and add additional flavour to the novel; their past encounters are not immediately revealed and provide a useful minor sub-plot.

Scase has a real interest in history. His research is thorough and he brings the Victorian period to life with great authenticity. The superficial veneer of a busy town with its pubs and tea rooms conceals a tawdry underbelly of truth - as is so often the case. The descriptions of the police officers with their mutton-chop sideburns and thick moustaches and armed with truncheons; the shawls and corsets, the threat of the hangman’s noose, the vocabulary (I looked up dollymop even though it was easy enough to guess); the workhouse and the infirmaries, the casual references to violence, the dimly-lit streets, the carriages and the hansom cabs all contribute to the atmosphere of the murky Victorian era. The colliery disasters alluded to in the novel were the result of greed and bad management and are based on horrifying fact which fuels the emotions, especially as those responsible were never really held to account; so, too, the realistic description of the hard life of the Victorian coal miner. The references to cocaine and laudanum echo a contemporary problem whose ubiquity still carries the power to shock.

As for the location, I have heard it said that ‘Cardiff is only a few miles and a different world away from the Valleys’ and Scase clearly draws on his South Wales roots to make clear in this novel that the culture of the Valleys is very different from that of any other part of Wales. The introduction of the occasional Welsh word reminds us of the accent we should be hearing and Scase succeeds in creating the lilt of the Welsh voice in his dialogue.

An enjoyable and enthralling read.
 

Review by Billie Ingram Sofokleous

Monday, May 24, 2021

The latest instalment in Leslie Scase’s ongoing Inspector Chard series finds the eponymous crime-solver with his hands full when three murders happen in Pontypridd, in rapid sequence. With a long list of suspects and no real assistance, this is all set against the backdrop of a recent colliery disaster which completely ravages the local community. A fight for control of – hugely lucrative – train production then comes looming into view. Chard has no way of stopping the constant meddling of his shambling superior, and there are noticeable tensions in the force as the inspector’s workload piles up.

The research Scase and I discussed during our interview made his work seem all the more vivid. Setting the piece in south Wales offers a still-relatable sense of the locals being in each other’s pockets; his imagining of a crime plot shifts between noir film-like drama and unerring historical accuracy. The gritty realism of the dialogue treads a fine line, timelessly understandable despite injections of archaic slang. The pivotal murders are gruesome, and stayed with me long after I finished Fatal Solution in my first sitting – and after I spoke to Leslie about this novel and other facets of his work.

Read the full interview on the Buzz Magazine website.

Review by Grumpy Old Books

Sunday, May 9, 2021

This is the second in the Inspector Chard novels. Chard is an Englishman from Shropshire who ends up as an Inspector in the Welsh Valleys boom town of Pontypridd in the 1890s. Set against the backdrop of the recent massive Albion colliery disaster and the fight for control of the hugely lucrative Welsh rail industry. Chard isn't quite a fish out of water but he is definitely in the wrong river. Three murders happen in quick succession. Are they linked? Can he stop his bumbling superior from interfering? Can he stop internal jealousies in the ranks. The Welsh Wyatt Earp has his hands full.

I absolutely loved this book and if I could give more than 5 stars I would. It succeeds on all fronts.

Historically it is excellently researched and presented. You are living the period from such nuggets as cocaine being legal, to workhouse etiquette to the day to day life of a miner.

The whodunnit aspect of the book is also excellent. The author sets numerous traps for you to fall into. Just when you think you know who the villain is, they are exonerated and the spotlight falls on someone else. I have been known to spot the killer early on in a crime fiction novel, however on this occasion the author had me flummoxed until the reveal. Then of course with hindsight the path to the killer is all too clear.

Thirdly and most impressively he gets the culture of the Valleys right. I am from the valleys and  in all the years that I have been reading, I always looked for two things. First to expand my view of the world that I am not familiar with. Secondly I have always looked to find books that reflect my heritage, and my sense of belonging, to show me, my own hinterland. The valleys are quite a large part of south Wales with a large population but are hardly noticeable in literature. The only notable exceptions that I found as a young man being How Green was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn  and Rape of the Fair Country by Alexander Cordell.  While both have their merits I always felt they didn't quite nail it. Llewellyn was actually an Englishman and I think sub-consciously was describing the valleys from the outside looking in (although the character of Dai Bando was superb, and I saw many men of that type.) While Cordell's world was about ironmaking not coal. The culture of the valleys is very different from any other part of Wales. I have heard said about the valleys that Cardiff was only a few miles and different world away. I feel the author gets the feel of the valleys.

This book ticks all the boxes and more for me. After reading this book, I immediately went and bought the first in the series. I think I may have a new favourite author and his name is Leslie Scase.

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