Shortly before Christmas, Professor James Lowell is found brutally attacked in his rooms at Walsingham College, where Anna Hopkins works as an administrator. Baffled as to why anyone would wish to harm such a gentle, scholarly man, Anna discovers that Lowell had a connection with her fellow dogwalker, Isadora Salzman, who knew him as an undergraduate in the 1960s, a co-member of the so-called Oxford Six. It turns out that Isadora has been keeping a surprising secret all these years. But someone else knows about Isadora’s secret: someone who has sent her a threatening, frightening letter.
Could the attack on Professor Lowell have its roots in a 50-year-old murder? And who is targeting Isadora and the surviving members of the Oxford Six? Anna, Isadora and Tansy, the dogwalking detectives, make it their business to find out.
Written in Red is the second in the Oxford Dog Walkers Mystery series, and such an enjoyable read. This one kept me up late at night, and cost me a few hours’ sleep, due to my reluctance to put the thing down when it was time to go to bed.
Anna has become a million times stronger, mentally and emotionally, than she was at the beginning of the first book, in which she was tormented and haunted by the horrific events of her past. Isadora, Tansy, Jake and her other friends and family all help her heal, slowly but surely. She becomes a much more stable and happy individual. Throughout the two novels, Anna’s friends help her realise that life is worth living and that it IS possible to keep moving on without forgetting those that she has lost.
However, what I think makes Anna’s story all more the realistic is that she isn’t completely ‘fixed’: she still struggles in certain social situations; still gets scared and claustrophobic and still has troubles lurking beneath the surface. Anna isn’t managing to develop a more quiet, settled life; instead, violence and crime seems to be following her around more often that it ever was. But this time, she’s managing to fight it without completely falling apart. To me, this makes Anna more of a 3D character, and gives us the promise that more character development is yet to come in subsequent books.
I also think that it’s the need for Anna to support others in their times of crises that help her get through things. In Written in Red, it’s Isadora’s past that comes back to haunt her and it’s down to Anna and Tansy and their friends to help her get through it and discover the truth behind a series of killings and threatening letters. A wide range of strange, compelling, colourful characters come out of the woodwork from Isadora’s youth: the dangerous and sinister Tallis, who single-handedly ruins the lives of many of her friends; Catherine, the enigmatic born-again Christian with a big secret, and Professor James Lowell, racked with pain and regret about his actions of his past, to name just a few.
Now, since I was a young girl, Annie Dalton has been teaching me about history through fiction. In her Agent Angel books, the main character zoomed throughout history and I learned so much about various civilisations and events of the past from all over the world. She didn’t stop there: I learned a lot in terms of war and the fight against communism in this book. Annie expertly intertwines a modern-day narrative with diary excerpts and tales from a troubling political time in British history, showing how business, politics and international relations can affect the home lives of normal, innocent citizens.
Another brilliant aspect of this series is that there are also a lot of twists and turns within the books that aren’t necessarily linked to main crime story. These twists build upon the underlying and continuous story of Anna and her world, parallel to the individual murder mystery within the novel. I won’t give anything away here, but I was just as surprised and intrigued by these as I was by the many surprises thrown in my direction by the crime aspect of the story. If you think you know Anna and her life from reading the first book, think again! And if you haven’t read the first book yet, then you are most definitely missing out.
The truth about the killer, and other mysteries, is not revealed until really quite close to the end of the book, and what I particularly loved about it was that it isn’t a straightforward, black-and-white, morally simple case. I defy you to read this book and come out of it thinking that there is only one side to every story.
I seriously loved this book; lovers of crime and mystery will adore it, but it will also appeal to lovers of literary fiction, romance, and even chick-lit alike. Well, well worth a read!