Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Death Watch

For Miss Lemon's readers who don't mind tucking into a toothsome police procedural, may she recommend the second entry in the Inspector Bill Slider series: Death Watch (1992), by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.

Reading this made Miss Lemon think of Colin Dexter's The Dead of Jericho. Indeed the two novels, with plots rooted in Greek tragedy, characters who quote Shelley and Shakespeare and detective inspectors more dogged than ambitious, share a crafty commonality.

But finding the familiar doesn't make reading Death Watch any less fun. It's possible that Dexter influenced Cythia Harrod-Eagels, but the story is all of her own devising.

In this case, a fire alarm salesman turns up dead by fire in a dodgy hotel. Was it suicide? Or was it murder? Slider and Atherton follow the rapidly cooling trail to the former members of a now-defunct London fire brigade. Curiously, most of them have died in suspicious circumstances, too. 

The parallels to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None are difficult to escape. The question is not just one of whether Bill Slider can catch the murderer before another fireman falls, but who would have the motive to carry out such a spree in the first place? What grudge can one carry against the self-sacrificing members of a fire brigade?

All Miss Lemon can say is that the answer may surprise you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Hand of Death

By now, my dear readers, you must know what a devoted admirer Miss Lemon has become of Margaret Yorke. Reading the sometimes grim -- but never dull -- The Hand of Death (1981) has done nothing to alter that opinion.

Like Agatha Christie's genius for hiding her murderers in plain sight, Margaret Yorke has the uncanny ability to dip into the most ordinary stock of Englishmen -- in this case, it is the quiet antiques dealer, Ronald Trimm -- and pull out the ones capable of the most shocking crimes. Though you'd hardly guess it from the face they put to the village at large, their secret lives and outrageous crimes are made completely plausible by Yorke's pen.

When Trimm's (aptly named in this novel, as he likes everything just so) advances are rebuffed by the marvelously depicted widow, Dorothea Wyatt, he sets off on a violent sexual spree. Almost as difficult to take as Trimm's selfishness and brutality, is the plot twist that puts the lonely widower and loyal friend to Dorothea, George Fortescue, into the frame for rape and murder.

Miss Lemon must warn her fans of cosy mysteries that The Hand of the Death is not one. For those who can stomach a bit of fictional violence, however, this novel is well worth the read -- indeed it is impossible to put down, once one has picked it up.

Within pages, it becomes clear why the pathetic Ronald Trimm behaves so abominably, proving again Margaret Yorke's mastery of psychological character study. She throws in a bit of good police procedural, too, but with just the right touch.

All of the characters in this novel, sympathetic or despicable as they are, are fully realized, which is what, Miss Lemon reckons, so ofter draws her back to Margaret Yorke.