Classic Crime

Janet Neel

Janet Neel was born 4th July 1940. She is the daughter of George and Mary Neel. She was educated at South Hampstead High School, Hampstead, London. Neel graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Honours, Law.

She started to work as a practicing solicitor in 1965. Neel married James Lionel Cohen in December 1971. Neel also worked in the US designing war games and back in Britain was a civil servant in the Department of Trade and Industry. The knowledge she acquired during this posting was to form the basis of her first crime novel. She then moved in to merchant banking. Another position she held was as a Governor of the BBC between 1994 and 1999.

Janet Neel Cohan was created Baroness Cohen of Pimlico, in the City of Westminster in 2000 and sits as a Labour peer in the House of Lords.

Neel wrote seven novels in the McLeish and Francesca Wilson series. The first, ’Death’s Bright Angel’ won the CWA John Creasey Dagger for Best First Crime Novel in 1988.

Review: Death's Bright Angel

William Fireman sits in a pub waiting for someone but they never arrive at the agreed time. Walking back to his London hotel, someone attacks the defenceless old man with a hammer, stealing his wallet and watch. To DI John McLeish and DS Bruce Davidson it first appears to be a random mugging of a Yorkshire businessman until the P.M. comes in that Fireman had been attacked not once, but twice and that this second attack had killed him. The detectives begin to wonder if Fireman had recognised his attacker.

This evidence leads the detectives to the door of Fireman’s employers, Britex Fabrics. Ailing and on its knees due to the current recession, the board hope to be bailed out by the Department of Trade and Industry. It is here that McLeish again meets Francesca Wilson, previously having helped her when she had locked herself out of her own home. Francesca is part of the team instructed to look at Britex’s finances and possible funding. It is as their two investigations entwine that emotions come to the fore. However, Francesca after a disastrous marriage, is determined to be a free spirit, and that means giving away her favours to several men at any one time. One is the Director of Britex Fabrics and despite being warned off by her superior Blackshaw, Francesca soon begins to mix business with pleasure which leads to very dangerous results.

This is not your usual crime novel which is why ‘Death’s Bright Angel’ won the CWA John Creasey Dagger in 1988. Neel uses her background as a civil servant in the Department of Trade and Industry to great effect. With her specialist knowledge she weaves an authentic plot with a failing textile business during a recession at its centre. It is this authenticity that gives body to this novel. You do need to pay especial attention to the parts where the Department of Trade and Industry reach out to help the ailing Britex Fabrics. Skim reading is not an option. Whether or not the procedures still hold today, I nonetheless found it fascinating and insightful. For one, I didn’t know that the Government would give a ‘hand out’ to a company in dire straits. The other large factor in this novel is Neel’s love of music. It is so strongly woven in to the plot that this book appears to have its own soundtrack.

Having recently lived (again) through the tough times of a recession, this tale of murder and swindles has a ring of truth to it. McLeish is a gentleman of good breeding and Neel perfectly describes how he falls so unutterably in love on sight with Francesca Wilson. I originally read this novel in the early nineties and twenty years later this novel still holds its own which is why it can be deemed a true modern classic.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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