‘Guard Her With Your Life’ by Joy Ellis – a novella that didn’t live up to its promise

Detective Sam Helsdown hasn’t seen his daughter Zoe in two years and he’s excited and more than a little nervous to be at the airport picking her up for a visit. She’s 10 years old and has flown on her own for the first time.

Flight BA631 from Athens has already landed and soon a trickle of people begins entering Arrivals. Among them is a little girl who runs towards him, head down, and throws herself into his arms saying ‘Daddy!’.

But then he looks at her properly. This is not Zoe. This is not his daughter.

Shortly afterwards Sam receives a phone call from his ex, Julia. ‘Help will come. Until then, guard her with your life.’

Soon unknown enemies are closing in and Sam must risk everything to keep this girl safe – whilst trying to discover her true identity.

I’ve been meaning to try out some Joy Ellis for a while now. I have the first few books of her Jackman and Evans series on my TBR. I should have started there but when I saw that Audible was offering me her latest novella as part of my membership, I bumped it to the top of my reading queue.

I should have gone with The Murderer’s Son, the first Jackman and Evans book instead.

I enjoyed Joy Ellis’s storytelling. She came up with an original and gripping idea that hits the ground running on the first page, dropping the main character, DS Sam Helsdown, and me, the reader, into a high-pressure situation full of threats from unknown sources that require instant responses and the crossing of lines that shouldn’t be crossed. The pressure mounted with every page as the threats escalated, Helsdown and I became invested in the little girl at the centre of the storm and I began to untangle Helsdown’s complicated past and his relationship with his mysterious, hard-to-trust ex-wife.

Everything went well. More characters were pulled in. The plot grew in scale and deepened in context with everything leading to a grand and potentially fatal confrontation in an isolated spot way out on the Fens.


It turned out that ‘Guard Her With Your Life’ delivered a soufflé when I had been expecting something solid to chew on. Like a soufflé, it rose and rose dramatically but it was hollow on the inside and collapsed just when I most wanted to eat it.

For me, the ending or, at least, how the ending was delivered, spoiled the novella for me. The plot, when it was finally revealed was on the kind of scale I expect of a Mission Impossible movie, unlikely and hard to believe but fun to see happen. The problem was that I didn’t get to see it happen. The final few chapters after the dramatic confrontation were spent on protected, cryptic plot exposition with the characters in the know explaining to the ignorant protagonists why they had just been put through the mill. I was very disappointed with this. It was passive and flat and felt a little lazy.

Even so, I liked Joy Ellis’ storytelling well enough that The Murderer’s Son will be getting bumped up my TBR pile soon.

3 thoughts on “‘Guard Her With Your Life’ by Joy Ellis – a novella that didn’t live up to its promise

  1. Loved the soufflé analogy Mike. I’ve recently listened to my first two audio books, by way of a trial. I enjoyed both, but have a sense of not having ‘read’ the books. As you are a seasoned audio imbiber, just wondered whether this is simply a different ’muscle’ I need to limber up?


    • Not everything works well as an audiobook. If the text is rich and complex, I often prefer to read the book as an ebook, or sometimes to have the ebook and the audiobook so that I can more easily go back to bits of text that I want to spend more time on.

      A lot depends on the quality of the narrator. Some narrators are wonderful and some seem to me to be doing a sight reading that demonstrates no understanding of the rythms of the writer’s prose.

      For some of the series that I listen to, the narrator has become the voice of books. I hear them in my head even when I read the ebook version. I’m thinking of Marguerite Gavin for the Kate Shugak books, George Guidall for the Walt Longmire books, Hugh Fraser for the Agatha Christie books and Gildart Jackson for the DC Smith series.

      Audiobooks often work well when they have multiple narrators when the author has written from more than one point of view. ‘Juliet Naked’ by Nick Hornby is a good example. The audiobook has three narrators and that helps to bring the book to life.


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