Rosalind Stopps: A Beginner’s Guide to Murder

This book was – surprisingly – both charming and touching, along with being a suspenseful caper novel. Three older women – Grace, Daphne and Meg – are sitting in a London coffee shop together when a young, frightened girl lurches in.  She heads for the restroom, and not long after a suspicious man comes in, claiming she’s his daughter.  They tell him they’ve seen nothing and watch him leave, then they immediately scoot out the back, taking the young woman with them.

As the title indicates, these women are beginners in the art of murder, but their target is immediately obvious.  What isn’t obvious are the personalities and characteristics of the women, and the author goes back in time to flesh out each character’s backstory, so the reader can see what shaped each one.  While the three hadn’t really known each other well before the coffee shop incident, they are united in their desire to save the young girl, Nina.  The real heartbreaker of the book is Nina’s story.

The reader is taken back in time where we see Nina being raised in a “care home” – in the US I think this would be a foster home – and the difficulties as well as the connections she has with some of the others in the home with her.  Unfortunately, she meets another young woman when she’s on the way to the library one day.   Reading the book, you want to reach through the pages and tell Nina to stay far, far away from this other young woman, but the story is already inevitable.

When Nina is again snatched by the man in the coffee shop, after experiencing a moment of safety with the women, the three redouble their efforts to save her.  It becomes unsurprisingly clear that Nina is basically a prisoner of this man. He pimps her out relentlessly, moving houses frequently.  It’s unclear just how the women will save her but they find an ally, Des, a friend of Daphne’s.  He’s actually been in prison so they are hoping he can offer advice or maybe kill this man for them.

It becomes clear Des was neither a good or committed criminal, but he does offer some insight: the man who has Nina is basically after money, and he knows some people who might be able to help with the murder bit of the plan. What follows is basically a suspenseful caper plot, as the three women work uncomfortably with Des’s acquaintances to offer a ransom and reclaim Nina.

What’s really unexpected about this book is how touching it is.  Grace, Daphne and Meg all have their own heartbreaking backstories, and as one of the women says to Nina at one point, “There’s a bit of trouble in every life.”  The fact that they understand trouble makes them want to help.  While their efforts sometimes seem almost silly, they are so dead serious in purpose that each step they take gets them closer to Nina.

The story is wonderful and so are these wonderful women.  I am honored to have spent some time with them, and (not really a spoiler) delighted by their ultimate success.  The author fills in the cracks and crevices of her story with wonderful details of London and different characters that, even if only encountered for a chapter, are so memorable they stick with you.  The specific details of her story and the sweetness of the characters makes her book special.