HQ Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin, a subsidiary of Harper Collins Australia, 2021
Let’s get this clear straight away – I loved this book. It’s a delicious piece of contemporary cosy crime, well written, full of relatable characters and social issues, all rendered with a delightfully light touch.
The book falls into the category of the ordinary Joe or Jane prompted to investigate a crime due to a personal connection. In this case, our heroine is Poppy McGowan, researcher for ABC children’s education section. She’s staying with her very nice Mum and Dad during renovations to her little historic cottage, when the builder unearths a set of bones.
Work is interrupted so that the nature of the bones and their historic significance can be assessed. Sadly, an ex-colleague, Dr Julieanne Weaver, with whom Poppy has had a chequered relationship, turns up to do the investigation. Not long after that, said colleague also turns up dead in the excavations – not until after she has organised for the local council to execute a stay order on Poppy’s building work, despite the bones turning out to be from sheep and other livestock and not particularly special although quite old.
Hence, the motivation for Poppy’s investigations to clear her name when she is dubbed suspect number one.
What follows is a twisting tale delving into right wing religious groups and the mirky mire of politics. Poppy proves to be not only intelligent, feisty and fearless, but a dogged investigator, though one who mostly defers to the investigating police, under the leadership of the redoubtable Detective Chloe. She also demonstrates her prodigious people skills – we understand her to be a person who treats others with respect and hence is a loved friend, family member and colleague – all very refreshing in the world of crime fiction.
The book is also laced with witty humour. Its supporting cast are well observed, roundly drawn and always recognisable. We do know people like the stalwart, laconic Terry and Dave, her newshound cameramen buddies. We also know builders like the wonderful Boris (am a bit in love with this character), boyfriend types like Stuart and certainly local Councillors like Cardigan Man. Pamela Hart writes her people so that we can like or loathe them, but there is often still compassion for the badduns, even those we are glad to see get their comeuppance.
Digging up Dirt is definitely a ripping yarn with a contemporary bent. We can get our teeth into the social issues addressed, but we can also just enjoy this as a crime romp. Justice is served, as we expect it to be and goodness wins the day. There’s even a dash of romance, but not mindless abandon – our likeable heroine is not all head, but then not all heart either.
Such a pleasure to learn that Poppy and some of her compatriots will ride on into a series of books. The next cannot come soon enough for me.
Thank you to Harper Collins for the review copy and to Pamela Hart for such an informative and pleasant conversation about the book and other important things.