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Head of Zeus
Astrid Swift, The Art Conservator Detective is a Post-Pandemic Heroine to Root ForM.H. Eccleston Introduces the Protagonist of The Trust and Death on the Isle
The Trust
Death on the Isle

Like many debut novels that will hit the shelves this year, The Trust was written during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. Losing all my freelance work and having to stay at home turned out not be such a bad thing. At the time, it felt like a disaster. But then I realised I now had the space, like many aspiring authors, to write that novel. The novel I’d been promising to get started for decades. Question was, who was it going to be about? 

I’ve always loved murder mysteries: Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, P. D. James, and more recently, the soft-boiled, very English crime of M. C. Beaton and Richard Osman. That was the genre then. Now for a protagonist. Gardener? Estate agent? Archaeologist? Vicar? It had to be someone with a unique expertise they could use to solve crimes – ‘a very particular set of skills’ as Liam Neeson said in that film nobody can remember. Unlike his set of skills – which seemed, if I can remember, to be limited to shouting down a phone and kicking people in the head – I needed a heroine with a unique job. Eventually, I arrived at art conservator.  

Art conservation is a remarkable profession that needs patience and dedication. Conservators will spend hundreds of hours cleaning and repairing the same piece of art – carefully revealing the true picture underneath all the years of dirt and damage. Who better to arrive at a crime scene and find out the truth? They also have a good knowledge of science (usually chemistry), fine art and a deft touch with a range of tools and tests. Astrid Swift travels with a conservator’s work kit. Arriving at a crime scene she might be mistaken for a forensic detective – and might do a better job.    

Astrid’s first journey – she leaves London for a fresh start in a backwater town in Dorset – is as much a personal journey. When we first meet her, she has it all. The high-flying career, the trophy husband, the bijou riverside apartment. It’s all an illusion though – not what she needs to make sense of her life. The answers lie in Dorset, where a small group of eccentric new friends show her the importance of community, and the irrelevance of stuff and status. Perhaps, a bit of my own journey through the shock of unemployment ended up in there. Who knows?  

The next two books in the series see Astrid set sail into new waters and new crimes. In Death on the Isle she arrives on the Isle of Wight during Cowes Week. The local NIMBY is found floating under the pier, and a shadow is cast over the world’s most prestigious sailing festival. Then it’s off to southern Spain in Death Comes to the Costa del Sol, where a group of British expats see their life in paradise threatened by an internet troll who seems to know all their secrets. On the way Astrid reunites with her estranged art-dealer father, who has some family secrets of his own.

It’s been a thrill to see Astrid come to life on the page – one I’d almost stopped believing would happen. I hope you have some fun following her too.

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