I was weirdly nervous on going into this book. Almost reluctant even. Firstly because Jo Tracey is a friend of mine. We met online and now meet in person fairly regularly and she feels like my most kindred spirit in a writing / creative way. And then there’s the fact that I’ve had a sneak peek at this book already. Which meant this was a re-read and even though it was many months ago, I worried I’d struggle to re-read it so soon.
I needn’t have stressed though because I surprised myself by becoming incredibly absorbed in Philly’s world – reading most of it in a sitting, despite not planning to do so… and only putting it aside as it was getting late and I really needed to rescue my dinner from the oven.
I’d forgotten a lot of the detail (I read so much I don’t retain as much as I’d like) but remembered most of the characters as I came across them. They’re certainly the highlight of this book, delightful… all different and with their quirks but all very real and relatable. I know Jo (or I should say Tracey, as I usually use authors’ surnames when reviewing!) has done a lot of research but is equally passionate about many of the things she writes about which means she can do so with ease – which is mirrored in the reader’s experience.Philly Barker Investigates
by Joanne Tracey
Series: Philly Barker Mysteries #1
Published by Self-published
Genres: Crime Fiction
When Chipwell antique dealer Philomena Barker spies a nineteenth-century painting of Whitby peeking out of a box of odds and sods at a York auction centre, she knows there's something special about it. She doesn't know that the painting holds a deeper secret - one that someone else would prefer to stay hidden.
When her dealership is broken into and an elderly customer violently assaulted in his own home, Philly joins forces with Inspector Robbie Dawkins to solve the mystery before anyone else is hurt.
But does Philly have what it takes to uncover the truth - or will her amateur sleuthing put her in harm's way?
I really liked our lead, Philly Barker…. in her late 50s and divorced. Tracey gives her a solid backstory and thankfully shies away from anything too cliched. Yes her Chief Superintendent husband (Stewart) left her for his young PA but their relationship is fairly amicable nowadays and they often do things with their grandchildren and Stewart’s young children. We’re in Philly’s head though so also able to understand her thought processes – the occasional blunt anger at her ex but recognising that they’ve all moved on.
Philly shares her shop space (in a barn) with an eclectic group and I liked all of them. Tracey’s able to comfortably share details of their wares, from military memorabilia to furniture to vintage clothing. And of course there’s a cafe with various delights (some of which I’d not heard of – ‘Parkin’ for example) and Tracey includes some recipes in the back of the book.
This is a cosy crime. There’s no murder but definite maliciousness. Rather than stumbling across it, Philly puts pieces together and she’s ably assisted by police officer Robbie. In his early 60s he’s considering retirement or semi-retirement. He’s widowed and Tracey intimates there’s more to that story on a few occasions but we’re not privy to the detail yet. (And I’m already looking forward to learning more.)
Here there’s a case of long-hidden secrets coming to light and a focus or fixation on the legacy attached to titles and wealth. Philly’s inquisitiveness and knowledge of antiques means she discovers photographs and a birth certificate hidden in the ‘lot’ she’s purchased and she and Robbie set out to learn why someone wants them back so badly.
This is almost a 4.5 star read for me – rare as that is – and I liked the reveal at the end but not sure we were given quite enough foreshadowing to put some of the pieces together ourselves or perhaps it’s part of the reveal itself. That said, I did not want this book to end. I loved the characters, the quirks of the small town with its pub and comfort meals and Tracey’s attention to detail, referencing everything from popular culture to cooking to architecture and furniture design to art history. Again, all effortlessly and engagingly shared. I’m certainly looking forward to the next instalment in this series.
Philly Barker Investigates by Joanne Tracey will be available from 28 September 2022.
I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes. (And cos she likes me. I think!)