A murder set in the rolling countryside of Lancashire during the last years of the Second World War. Farming, country life and long held grudges. A family at war in all senses, a contrast of detecting styles and wonderful descriptions of the actual work carried out on a wartime farm all go to make this a grounded and immensely readable book in the wonderful series of Classic Crime from the British Library. As picked up by Martin Edwards in his informative and personal introduction, this book represents an author at “the height of her powers” depicting her beloved countryside and her deep knowledge of the actual work of farmers, especially at a time of necessary maximum production and regulation. The characters are brilliantly drawn in all their defining behaviour and inconsistencies as real people in an area of traditional lifestyles and knowledge of neighbours. Ranging from the stubborn patriarch whose physical capabilities reflect his domination of everyone in the household, through the loyal tenant and the embittered neighbour, this is a book of real observation and understanding of life in rural communities. Despite the struggles of the first detective to elucidate anything from the thoughtful speech of potential witnesses, this is a standout novel in an excellent series of reprinted gems from the golden age of detection in twentieth century Britain. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent novel with its well plotted and paced story of danger and detection.
The book opens with the solid and reliable bailiff, John Staple, looking out over the land he has walked, farmed and cared for over his entire life. A man approaches him, and he comes to recognise Richard Garth, eldest son of his employer the indomitable Robert Garth. Richard is now a sailor who has been involved in a good deal of action following his departure from this area with a wife, Mary, now deceased. Exiled after a family row over his choice of partner, Richard remains bitter towards a comparatively wealthy father who cast him out, and he has no wish to see his family after a twenty five year estrangement. The family is mentioned by Staple as he points out that Marion Garth, the daughter of the house, is an excellent and hard working farmer in her own right, though her father still firmly holds the purse strings. Other members for the household include the determined Land Girl Elizabeth and the youngest son Malcolm, as well as the returned son Charles. When a murder occurs on the day of a shoot, the local police are overstretched by wartime regulation enforcement, and investigating officer Layng is blocked by the locals’ stubborn relative silence. It is only when Chief Inspector Macdonald arrives and immerses himself in the land and the farming community that the disturbing truth begins to emerge.
I found this book to be a beautifully written portrait of the realities of farming life at a tense time.The pressure to derive the maximum harvest from the land is given in detail with the varied produce and jobs always to be done. The portrait of Marion is extremely well drawn, as she strives to assert herself against her father’s successful but overly careful rule. As the landscape is celebrated in loving detail, the characters within it are so well drawn with their local dialogue and habits that it reveals the authors extensive local knowledge. I genuinely enjoyed every part of this lyrical and beautifully written mystery, and hope that there are many more novels from this author to be made available.
As I rush through my collection of British Library books , my problem comes with storage – while my shelves attract a lot of attention with the colours and generally great production, they are in danger of pushing everything else out of the 1930s bookcase! When I finally sort them out, I can see a picture will be required… (and it is a lovely problem to have!)