Each time I discover another book from Fleur Hitchcock I find that I become an even bigger fan of her style and approach to creating modern adventure thrillers bringing the adventures and danger of classic tales bang up to date, to be accessible and resonating with modern children as much as the classics offered their original generation.
Murder in Midwinter is a fantastic cinematic thriller, full of nail biting tension yet also filled with that claustrophobic, paranoid space of watching and waiting for the energy to strike. This is a proper thriller from someone who enjoys the adult genre just tempered down gently for the much younger reader.
It’s days until school breaks up for Christmas and Maya is taking pictures of the lights along Regent Street on the bus home when her camera flashes distracting a couple arguing. But as she checks her phone she realises something far more sinister is at play, and when her younger sister is mistaken for Maya, she finds herself bundled off in police protection to her mother’s sister in deepest, darkest Wales with awful internet, no phone service and a murderer on her tail.
‘I saw a man pull a gun on a woman in the middle of town,with like, loads of shoppers all around them,’ I blurt. ‘From the bus.’
This is an utterly thrilling novel layered with danger and intrigue in a way that I can say I was clutching at straws at times wondering where the danger truly lay- and I LOVE that! As much as I still get puffed with pride when I get it right, I adore to be so maddened that I cannot work it out too!!
Maya is a fabulous heroine, she’s anxious, she’s insecure at times and utterly fed up in that way only teens can be! Her interchanges with her estranged cousin Olly are realistic of the sniping, swiping and low brow exasperating attempts at insults of the age group too ‘Princess won’t eat coochie coo baby animals’ to ‘Your bedroom? That’ll be why it smells so bad.’
“Princess and the tomato”, says Ollie. “The fairy tale they didn’t write.”
I also love that Fleur wrote a clearly vegetarian character (as she does again in Clifftoppers too), I was a vegetarian at that age and felt rather alienated for it with my peers, and despite my family trying very hard, I did feel a embuggerance (to borrow a word from Pratchett) at times so I empathise with the way Maya is written trying not to care that this is continuously forgotten but not in a malicious way by her aunt.
I rather love that Fleur Hitchcock has also been quietly writing for all children with protagonists of BAME backgrounds without making their ethnicity the story, instead, placing children who may not see characters like themselves in many books having adventures, being heroes and being the centre the story spins around. This is shown in her books that I have read Clifftoppers, Murder at Twilight and here as Maya is described to be of mixed race and whilst her appearance includes features that distinguish her to the bad guys, her ethnicity is not an ‘issue’ and yet is balanced beautifully by being written as part of who she proudly is.
You from your perfect stupid family, coming here like you own the place. like you can just invade MY LIFE
Family is a strong force within this book from her multigenerational family back in London, Grandad helping run the bathroom supply store whilst fixing up motorbikes and watching the toddler twins, the beautiful closeness of two sisters cuddling at night for comfort, and wonderfully warm loving parents. Then to the worn eccentricity of slightly frantic Auntie V and angry Ollie missing his feckless father, both seem rather sad and despite loving where they live they are not blind to its limitations and indeed this shame contributing to estrangement from the London based family. This is so real and believable and I loved the balance of the beauty and challenging sides of both London and rural Wales that readers won’t feel judged or lesser for where they live.
The action parts of the book especially amidst the snowy Welsh landscape are cinematic in tangible peril and action and I was gripped throughout desperate to find out if Maya makes it. That itself is testament to a good children’s thriller that you forget it’s a book for children and there are generally positive outcomes!
Peering through the circling snow guns flash
Overall I’m even bigger a fan of Hitchcock than I was before! I’m now off to look for more in her back catalogue to read whilst I count down for more Clifftoppers and hopefully more standalone too.
Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock is published by Nosy Crow