Delivering milk to Gabriella Patten at Celandine Cottage on a sunny April morning, Martin Snell cannot help noticing that something isn’t quite right. The gate is off the latch for a start. Peering into the cottage, he sees the blackened armchair, the smoke-stained walls, and immediately telephones the police. But when the body is found it isn’t Mrs Patten. It is Kenneth Fleming, England’s star batsman, dead of asphyxiation, dead because someone wanted him to die.
When Scotland Yard is called in by the local police force, Inspector Lynley and Detective Sergeant Havers are surprised to find themselves confronted by an almost embarrassing multitude of suspects, from Gabriella to the dead man’s teenage son. Nearly everyone with whom Fleming was in contact seems to have a motive for murder – and most of them also seem to have had the opportunity.
First published: 1994
This is the seventh book in the Inspector Lynley series and it’s another very solid mystery novel. I really liked the first six but this might just have been the best one yet. These books just seem to get more and more detailed and intricate as the series goes along, which has both its pros and its cons.
I really appreciated all of the elaborate back stories of the characters, such as those Fleming’s wife and three kids. It made the story that much richer and it ensured I got really invested in all of their lives. However, at one point I did feel like the back stories became slightly longwinded and I found myself a little impatient for more about Lynley and Havers. That is after all why I love this series so much in the first place: the mystery in combination with the personal lives of Lynley and Havers, as well as St James and Deborah, who unfortunately didn’t feature in this novel.
At the end of the novel I started to see how much depth the back stories really did add, though, so I’m still kind of on the fence about whether or not they actually were too longwinded in my opinion. Especially Olivia’s story did get much more interesting near the end, but before that I did think there were a few too many chapters that solely focused on her. It all added up and came together, but (here comes the cliché) it’s about the journey, not the destination, after all. In other words, I would’ve liked a bit more Lynley and Havers and a bit less side characters.
The mystery was very intriguing once again and became more so as I read on when more complications entered the equation and it all started to seem quite impossible to solve. I had no idea who had done it until quite near the end and I really liked how it almost seemed as if this murder would be unsolvable – the murderer had been very thorough about getting rid of the evidence. Near the end, it became clear that Lynley had had his suspicions about how the killer was for quite some time, but that he had to come up with quite a manipulative plan in order to actually be able to prove it.
Having said that, I think Lynley is a great protagonist. He’s very level-headed and seems to see right through everyone. However, he does have his flaws, which is very important for a protagonist, in my view. I’d noticed in one of the previous books that Lynley can be quite sexist, but it was even more prominent in this novel. He’s aware of it himself as well, and despises that part of himself, but it’s still there and it made me twitch quite a few times:
In his blackest periods, he found himself longing for what he liked to describe as ‘the good old days’ when women were born and bred to be wives, consorts, mistresses, courtesans, or anything else that required of them complete submission to the will of the male.
Uhm, excuse you? I mean, at least he’s aware of the fact that this is a completely awful way to think, but still. It very suddenly made me like him a lot less, however brilliant he is as an investigator. But then he goes and solves a murder and I am in awe once again.
Luckily, there was Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, who is a very strong female character. She now has her own cottage, after she had to make the decision to put her mother in a nursing home in the previous book. She has quite a tough life, but she manages it, even though she is very hard on herself. There is one scene in the book when Lynley brings her home after a day of work and they have tea and bread in her tiny cottage together, and I absolutely adored this scene. It’s so great to see those two develop their relationship as partners, and I hope to read much more about that in the next books in the series.
If you love a good, intricate mystery, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a try, although I do think it’s best to start at the beginning of the series, just so you know the back stories of the main characters.