Monday, May 09, 2022

Of Sausages and Royal Residences

By Fraser Massey
Time moves on, though some things never change. I play a little game in my head every now and then when I’m reading crime novels. I try to work out how, if the stories in them were true, they’d be reported in the pages of newspapers.

I couldn’t help myself from doing this when I was reading Christina James’ Sausage Hall, which has just been re-issued by a new publisher and under a more meat-free title. The new version’s called The Sandringham Mystery.

At the heart of the plot is the discovery of the naked body of a young woman buried in the woods near Queen Elizabeth’s estate at Sandringham, in Norfolk, England.

When Sausage Hall first came out, back in 2013, any real-life event such as this would definitely have rated a mention in the national newspapers, because of where the corpse was discovered. But today, with Her Majesty’s second son, Prince Andrew, seemingly having chosen not to go to court to clear his name from the taint of a sex scandal, it would be right up in there on the front pages in 84-point headlines, with tabloid hacks trying to outdo each other’s efforts in screaming for the prince to be brought in for questioning.

Author James has sensibly opted to avoid mentioning any Royal shenanigans in The Sandringham Mystery. The book was originally written before we knew of Andrew’s woes. And the author has chosen, rightly so in my opinion, not to update it along those lines for the new version. She didn’t need to. Her plot works well enough without her having to sensationalize the story.

Intriguingly though, in a recent interview with BBC Radio Lincolnshire, James revealed that the people behind her new publisher, Bloodhound Books, told her they were renaming her novel so as to appeal more to the U.S. market, because so many Americans are fascinated with the Royal family. She said the publishers told her, “Americans are going to love this title because they connect Sandringham with the Queen.”

(Above) Sandringham House sits on a 20,000-acre estate.

Sandringham, for those not in the know, is one of the many Royal residences dotted around the UK and the one where the Queen and her family usually spend the Christmas holidays.

The Sandringham Mystery deals with a subject considerably more important than the misbehavior, or otherwise, of a minor Royal and deserves attention regardless of its geographical setting. In her plot, James draws parallels between how manufacturing giants active during the heyday of the British Empire flourished on the backs of slave labor, and how some companies in the UK today may be cutting costs by using smuggled immigrant labor, those foreign nationals being forced to work in exploitative conditions for tiny payments, a fraction of legal minimum wage rates.

Some things never change, it seems.

Worryingly, similar situations look likely to continue as the British economy (along with those of many other countries in the western world) struggles to cope in the wake of problems arising from the lengthy COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Eagle-eyed readers may have noted that Sausage Hall (as it still was known at the time) was last re-published as recently as December 2020, along with the eight other novels that comprise James’ excellent series of police procedurals starring Detective Inspector Tim Yates. (Sausage Hall was the third of those books to be released.) They came out then under the Poisoned Chalice banner, the crime-fiction imprint of an ambitious, freshly launched UK publishing venture called QuoScript, which planned to specialize in crime fiction, young-adult novels, and works of Ukrainian literature in translation.

Sadly, the company seems to have floundered disappointingly swiftly in the prevailing difficult commercial conditions. It ceased trading in November 2021, taking the DI Yates novels with it.

Bloodhound Books deserves praise for bringing Yates back so quickly in The Sandringham Mystery. For readers not familiar with James’ detective, this new edition makes a splendid introduction to both him and his team in the South Lincolnshire police force. Yates is one of those figures in crime fiction who stands out as a thoroughly decent man. His only fault seems to lie in not realizing how dependent he is on his deputy, Detective Constable Juliet Armstrong, for the smooth running of his department.

With luck, adding a dash of reflected Royal glamour to its title will help The Sandringham Mystery sell enough copies to prompt Bloodhound to reissue the rest of the Yates and Armstrong mysteries too.

I, for one, won’t care what names they come out under as long as they’re all soon available once more.

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