Monday, May 6, 2024

Devil's Breath - Jill Johnson

At least all this waiting for new tires is giving me time to catch up with book posts... I'd been eyeing up Jill Johnson's 'Devil's Breath' for a couple of weeks - it's a lovely cover and I liked the Nish Kumar quote that summarised it as 'Sherlock Holmes meets Gardeners' Question Time.' Then I met Jill Johnson at a book event in Nottingham where she was talking about book number two - 'Hell's Bells', out in July. She was great so next morning I bought Devil's Breath and read it in a couple of sittings.

I have mixed feelings about contemporary crime, a lot of it is too violent for me, I'm not overly keen on the amount of violence committed against women either, there's plenty that I do enjoy, but it's not a given. I loved this book. It's smart, I didn't want to stop reading it, the characters are spikey and occasionally difficult, and the mystery kept on getting deeper. 

Eustacia Rose is a Professor of Botanical Toxicology, she lives alone, she no longer has her job, her life is her poisonous plants, there have clearly been difficulties in her past, and in her self isolation she's taken to spying on the neighbours who she wouldn't dream of talking too.

One neighbour in particular has caught her attention, a beautiful young woman who she's well on her way to being obsessed with - and then she hears a scream. Eustacia's life becomes bound up with Simone's and the 4 men who visit her, one of whom is oddly familiar to her. Then her garden is destroyed with plants stolen, someone dies, possibly killed by toxins from one of her plants and her simple life is very complicated.

Eustacia is a wonderful character, I won't give spoilers because learning about her and her history is really the central mystery to this book. The death is almost peripheral, although it may turn out to be significant in later books, and the ending is pleasingly ambiguous. We know there's a lot more to come. 

Altogether it's a quirky, slightly gothic, crime thriller with unusual characters that feels a little bit different from most of the things around at the moment. I feel Agatha Christie would have loved the poison element, and maybe there's a touch of Poirot in some of Professor Rose's habits, or at least a nod in his direction, even if only just. The Sherlock Holmes comparison is really apt too, as is the Gardener's Question Time comparison. This was a lot of fun, and promises much for the series to come. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounded so fabulous I immediately went to look for an excerpt/extract and then ordered a copy. Thank you for the review. You're quite right; it's the character that draws you in right away.