Written by Frances Fyfield — She’s a prolific and award-winning author loved by many, but until now the work of Frances Fyfield has almost passed me by. She has written 22 books, and Casting the First Stone is the latest. It’s a follow-on to Gold Digger, which introduced the character Diana Porteous, and her dying husband Thomas. I haven’t read it, and although Casting The First Stone can be read as a story in its own right, readers new to the characters will find themselves at something of a disadvantage.
It is a book populated by a full cast of oddballs and misfits, and not least of them is the central character, Di. She is a recent widow who was married to a much older man – a marriage that changed her life. Previously, Di was a thief, and apparently she met her husband to be while in the process of burgling his house. But Thomas Porteous was a forgiving man, and he set about schooling Di in the ways of the art world. Now she lives in their lovely, if crumbling, home in Deal. As you might expect, she’s surrounded by astounding artwork, but also by some very odd friends.
The beach is a favourite place for Di, and as we first meet her she is sitting on it with her step-grandson, Patrick – my favourite character in this story. Di is stuck in a deep rut of grief and seems disinclined to leave it. That’s until her friend and agent, Saul, comes up with a plan. He introduces Di to his stylish sister Sarah, and together the siblings formulate a plot that will use Di’s talents – as both art expert and thief – to the full.
An elderly neighbour needs their help. Granta’s estranged son has stolen a number of her valuable paintings and she wants them back. Steven lives in splendid isolation on the first floor of a former bank building in the heart of the City of London. He is surrounded by artworks purloined by dubious means, and his only contact seems to be with the building’s security guard, Janek. Can Di and Sarah get through security and ‘rescue’ Granta’s property?
All sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Sadly, for me the whole thing never really came together. I expected an exciting caper, with thrills and spills, twists and turns, but sadly what promised to be a cross between Hustle and Mission Impossible instead read more like a Women’s Institute outing.
The title refers to one of Di’s key skills. She can throw a stone with astonishing accuracy, although she only demonstrates this once in the book. And of course, the complete quote is ‘let he that is without sin cast the first stone’. A plethora of sinners inhabit the pages of this book, and I found little to redeem them. Unlike the central character, I think the author missed the target here.
If you like slower moving, subtly developing stories then you’ll enjoy this book. I’m afraid it left me feeling like I was struggling to cross the shingle beaches that feature so often within its pages.
CFL Rating: 2 Stars