A Snapshot of Murder ~ Frances Brody
This is the tenth in Frances Brody’s series set in 1920s Yorkshire and featuring Kate Shackleton, a war widow who has drifted into the world of the private investigator. It is 1928 and Haworth Parsonage is just about to be given to the nation for use as a Brontë Museum. Kate and five of her fellow photographers set off on their society’s first ever outing to record the event and to take photographs of the surrounding countryside, especially that associated with Wuthering Heights. Among the party are troubled husband and wife, Carine and Tobias Murchison. Theirs is a marriage that should never really have come about and one which has been placed under severe pressure both by his drinking and the fact that Carine has never stopped loving Edward Chester, her fiancé who failed to return from the trenches. Also among the group are Derek Blondell, a teenager besotted by Carine, and Rita Rufus, another of Carine’s admirers. The photographers stay at Ponden Hall and it soon becomes clear that Tobias has history with the family there, who have no cause to welcome him into their home. Thus, when he is stabbed in the crush of spectators gathered to witness the handing over of the parsonage, there is no shortage of potential suspects.
Aided and abetted by the ever reliable Jim Sykes, her niece Harriet and the intrepid Sergeant Dog (otherwise known as failed bloodhound number two) Kate sets out to solve yet another mystery. Despite the fact that there are some really very nasty people populating this novel, the overall tone remains that associated with crime fiction of the Golden Age rather than of contemporary examples of the genre and although I don’t really get on with the books actually written in that era, I do enjoy Brody’s work; this is one of the better books in the series.
Body Breaker ~ Mike Craven
Mike Craven, whether writing in this persona or as M C Craven, has been one of my discoveries of the year. This is the second in his series featuring D. I. Avison Fluke a member of the Cumbrian FMIT.
When a body is found scattered all over the tenth hole of a local golf course it is Fluke and his team who are initially called in. However, almost before they have got past the first stages of the investigation they are elbowed out of the way by a squad from the Met. For whatever reason, the dismembered corpse is on their radar and they are intent on taking the case over. Neither Fluke, nor any of his team, are happy about this, the less so when it becomes apparent that the name assigned to the victim is a false one and he is, in fact, Mark Bishop (Bish), an old friend of the Inspector, someone with whom he served in the marines. Characteristically, they are determined to continue with the investigation. Fluke’s personal involvement deepens when Jinx, a young traveller, turns up at his door claiming that she is Mark’s wife and that he told her if he was ever to disappear she should appeal to Fluke for help. Loathe to let the Met officers know of her existence, Fluke turns to the last person he should really involve, Nathaniel Diamond, the local criminal kingpin and asks him to find a safe house where Jinx can hide.
The plot twists and turns as Fluke gradually uncovers the reason why Bish had taken up the travellers’ way of life and why the Met are so interested in him. Craven lays a number of red herrings and I fell for most of them. However, I wasn’t as convinced by the ultimate reveal as I have been in the other two books of his that I’ve read and the final sting in the tail, the hook that is supposed to draw the reader to the next in the series, just annoyed me. I don’t like these cliff hangers. If an author’s work is good enough I am going to come back anyway. And, in this case, I wonder if Craven hasn’t gone over the top and left his main character in a predicament too hard to write his way out of. Is this why he has started to write under another persona, with a new protagonist? I shall have to wait and see.
The Ruin ~ Dervla McTiernan
The third of these short reviews is actually of a re-read. I am just about to start the second of Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly novels, The Scholar, but, having read The Ruin at a time when I wasn’t really giving my full attention to what I was reading (moving house can be like that!) and not having reviewed it at the time, I thought I had better go back and renew my acquaintance with her characters and the setting first.
Cormac is a D.S. with the Irish Gardaí, based now in Galway, having just transferred from an elite squad in Dublin to be with his partner, Emma. In his new posting he meets with considerable hostility and is pretty much consigned to re-examining cold cases. Used to leading high powered investigations, Reilly is uncertain whether his reception in Galway is due to professional jealousy or, more worryingly, that there is a level of corruption among his new colleagues they are concerned he will pick up on. However, one of the cases assigned is of personal interest to him. Two decades earlier, as a rookie on the force, Cormac was sent in response to a call about, seemingly, a minor domestic. What he discovered then has now resurfaced due to the apparent suicide of twenty-five year old Jack Blake. Jack’s sister, Maude, newly returned from Australia, demands that the investigation is re-opened, convinced that her brother was, in fact, murdered and pursuades his partner, Aisling, to join forces with her. Reilly is ordered to reinvestigate the original call out and associated death and in doing so unearths a web of evil that has cast a pall over the lives of many of the novel’s characters.
The Ruin was published to great acclaim and I remember thinking when I first read it that it lived up to the hype. After this second reading I am not quite so sure. McTiernan’s over-riding concern is a particularly nasty type of child abuse and, to some extent, the use of religion as a means of covering up what is happening. I think at times she lets her desire to push home the message get in the way of plot coherence. There is a side story about the rape and murder of young women on both sides of the Atlantic, which is vaguely thematically linked, but which can distract from the main narrative line. Second time round, I also felt that the amount of hostility and indeed corruption that Cormac encounters in the Galway force is just too much. I have friends in Galway and I am loath to think that their safety is being overseen by a set of Gardi who, with a couple of low ranking exceptions, are a darned sight worse than the criminals they set out to apprehend. This isn’t going to stop me reading The Scholar because there is still a lot about McTiernan’s writing that I did enjoy, but I hope that in a few years time we will look back on this first effort and see it as just that, an apprentice piece from an author who has gone to become a master.