A Stroke of Bad Luck by Diane Janes – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Titles can be tricky. Should authors go for the obvious or hint at the tale that lies inside their tome? Crime writer Diane Janes has opted for something rather understated – A Stroke of Bad Luck isn’t a strong enough description for what happened to Ernest Brown, the man accused of murder in her fifth book to be inspired by a true story.
It’s relatively easy to find out about Brown by Googling his name, but you will only find the very bare bones of the story; Janes has fleshed it out brilliantly, giving readers a feel for the time, place and the predicament he found himself in.
The events depicted take place in the 1930s at Saxton Grange near Tadcaster; incidentally, the curious can check out the location themselves by staying in one of the holiday cottages available on the site – the owners might not think it the ideal pulling point for their property, but murder can be a lucrative business…
Brown had been employed as a groom, but left only to return as a general handyman shortly afterwards. A widower with a daughter living with his mother, he had digs at the Grange, had known his employer, Frederick Morton, for years and had recently ended a fling with his wife, the seductive Dolly; rumour has it that it was Brown not Morton who was the father of her child.
After retiring one evening, Brown was awoken by an explosion – the nearby garage was alight. He set about raising the alarm and freeing the livestock in an adjacent barn before fetching help.
Nevertheless, after Morton was discovered dead in the garage, having been shot before the blaze began, Brown was arrested for his murder, convicted at trial and sentenced to death.
However, discrepancies in the testimony of various witnesses and a lack of evidence made the victim’s sister Florence wonder if the police had got the right man.
Janes has clearly painstakingly researched the case, and although she’s taken some artistic licence with the dialogue and characterisations, it’s a great piece of detective work, showcasing the process and prejudices of the period, plus the snobbery within the judicial system that rarely gave the working-classes a chance at a fair trial.
Did Brown hang, or was his appeal successful? And what part did Morton’s sister play in the proceedings?
Don’t Google it, let Janes tell the story in enthralling, nail-biting detail – and then decide if you think the title befits the tale.
‘A Stroke of Bad Luck’ by Diane Janes is published by Troubador, £8.99 paperback