Sunday, January 30, 2011

Orchestrated Death

It's been some time since Miss Lemon has picked up a whodunit so absorbing that she could not put it down again until she'd gotten to the end.

That was exactly the case with Orchestrated Death (1991), by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, which features the debut of Inspector Bill Slider and his sergeant, Jim Atherton.

Jim and Bill. The names don't promise much in the way of originality or wit, do they? Don't be fooled. This mystery crackles with snappy one-liners and wry observations about everything from marriage --  the reasons for 'which ranged from the insufficient to the ludicrous' -- to hair colour. Slider's son Matthew makes friends with 'a boy called Sibod, with such flamingly red hair that it looked like a deliberate insult.' 

Her faithful readers must know by now that Miss Lemon has absolutely nothing against red hair. Nor shall her readers take amiss any of clever banter that's batted back and forth between Slider and Atherton, the pair of which bring to mind Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy in the British mysteries by Caroline Graham.

The premise of Orchestrated Death is smart and simple: the body of a young woman is found naked in a tenement in West London, and the only thing to identify her is the mark on her neck made by the chin-rest of her violin. And a rare and expensive violin it turns out to be.

Though largely without family or means, it seems the murdered woman, a second-chair player from the Birmingham Orchestra, owned a Stradivarius.

As Slider and Atherton try to reckon how their victim came by a fiddle worth well-nigh £1 million, the suspects, the inconsistencies -- and the bodies -- begin to pile up. But what Miss Lemon found most compelling is that along the way, Slider, sleepwalking through life married to a woman he no longer understands, is suddenly awaken by a chance encounter with a witness. The relationship that develops is at once as poignant as it is believable; and it adds just as much tension to the narrative as the murders do.

Miss Lemon promises that should you pick up Orchestrated Death, you'll not be disappointed. Now, she must run. She has a date for the symphony. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Forgotten Book Friday: A Fatal Inversion

Here it is, already two weeks into the New Year, and what is Miss Lemon doing? Not keeping up with her posts, evidently.

To rectify this dereliction of literary duty, Miss Lemon offers her readers another Forgotten Book Friday selection: A Fatal Inversion (1987), by Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine.

While laying to rest their spaniel, the most recent owners of Wyvis Hall in Nunes, Suffolk, unearth a dark secret, the relics of ten years past when a group of men and women barely past their teens had the ill-founded idea to start a commune. They called it 'Ecalpemos.' And there's your 'fatal inversion.'

Flash forward ten years and the keepers of this secret -- Adam Verne-Smith, Rufus Fletcher and Shiva Manjusri -- each in his own way relives the past and begins to panic as he pieces together the clues the police might find that will implicate him in what should have been a long-forgotten crime.

Though she offers several incisive psychological portrayals, A Fatal Inversion is not Ms. Rendell's best work. Perhaps it's the multiple points of view interspersed with countless flashbacks to 1976 that make this narrative sag at times. Even so, there are many things Miss Lemon found to like about the novel, such as the 'secret drink' that Rufus always keeps hidden behind a curtain hem, a habit that never changes from his days at Ecalpemos to his successful practice on Wimpole Street and the sign of a true alcoholic.

Readers also learn the shocking reason why Adam is so neurotically anxious about the welfare of his infant daughter, Abigail. The reason Ms. Rendell puts forward is as brilliant as it is sinister.