Book Review: The Cryptic Clue by Amanda Hampson

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dr Diana Carroll, shares a new adventure with the much-loved ‘Tea Ladies’.
Dr Diana Carroll

The first Tea Ladies novel was a huge hit last year for author Amanda Hampson spending 12 weeks in the Australian fiction Top Ten charts. That’s quite an achievement and proof that the nostalgic ‘cosy crime’ genre is having quite a moment. And perhaps that’s not surprising when we live in such uncertain times. Just look at the world-wide fame of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series, now in production with Netflix.

Hampson’s three Tea Ladies, Hazel, Betty, and Irene, are back with their new adventure set in Sydney in 1966. There’s lots of lovely local colour with the social changes of the swinging sixties and the on-going construction on the Harbour of the (then controversial) Sydney Opera House.

As the story begins, Hazel and Betty are enjoying their stay at the Bellevue Hotel in Manly. This is their well-deserved week’s holiday, even though Manly is just a half-hour ferry ride across the harbour. Hampson wastes no time getting into the story. “Hazel Bates has been keeping a close eye on the man at the corner table since they arrived…” is the novel’s opening line. From there it’s a jolly jape and when the Tea Ladies go looking for hidden loot from an earlier robbery involving Irene’s husband you know mayhem is hiding around every corner.

Amanda Hampson is a very experienced author who likes to say that it took her twenty years to become an overnight literary success. Behind the novel is a depth of research and lots of local knowledge that give it a real authenticity. There’s also the warmth and generosity of spirit that makes cosy crime so appealing.

Then, as now, there are layers of social change taking place, challenging the status quo. These are exciting to some and confronting to others. The new-fangled café-bar machines (remember those, with the big clunky levers?) threaten to make the Tea Ladies redundant. And the new panty-tights “like stockings attached to undies” might finally free women from the tyranny of wearing a girdle! These little details seem so quaint and always raise a smile as you read.

The Cryptic Clue is a charming, gentle novel with well-drawn characters and a great sense of its time and place. And set in sunny Sydney, it’s a perfect read for a chilly winter’s day.

The Cryptic Clue by Amanda Hampson is published by Penguin Books Australia. RRP $34.99

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