A Fatal Secret by Faith Martin – A Loveday and Ryder mystery set in Oxford, 1961
A tragic death given full weight and impact on a family and community gives a tough challenge for an innovative duo who investigate crimes in 1960s Oxford.Probationary WPC Trudy Loveday finds being a rare creature in a totally male dominated force tricky enough, but is also unsettled by her parents’ attitude to her career choice and other actions. Her friend and fellow investigator, Coroner Clement Ryder, has a secret he is unwilling to share with even with Trudy, but puts aside his difficulties to investigate a death that he can only find to be accidental in the first instance. It is only when an influential man asks for help that the Loveday and Ryder take action, and what they discover has implications for more than a family estate which seems to be frozen in time. It takes extreme bravery from more than one person to resolve anything, and the implications of their discoveries are potentially huge.
This is a thoroughly engaging mystery, and the setting and background details not only show extensive research, but also a genuine feeling for place and time. Although the latest in a series, this book works extremely well as a standalone mystery novel which may tempt you to track down the earlier volumes. As always, Martin show her experience and ability to convey the essential nature of a character in a few deft strokes. The subtle references to people’s rooms and behaviour under pressure reveals so much about their very nature. Even moments of high drama are peppered with details of small incidents which make this a book which succeeds on so many levels. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this elegantly clever book.
WPC Trudy is working on Easter Sunday and anticipating a quiet day when a call comes in concerning a missing child. As a body is discovered the causes seem innocent enough as the boy has apparently met with a tragic accident. Even at the inquest overseen by Coroner Ryder the verdict seems fairly straightforward, and it is only when an influential member of the landowning family asks Ryder to get involved that he summons Loveday away from her mundane police duties to assist him in investigating further. Their method of interviewing various people in and around the “Big House” stirs up several secrets as well as revealing the remaining importance of the village hierarchy. Life in a college is summed up quickly and effectively, and there is a swift procession of settings for questions which prove to be unpopular with several people.
The chief strength of this novel is the interplay between Ryder and Loveday, as the young woman realises that wealth and privilege can ease life, but that it does not necessarily guarantee happiness. Ryder reveals something of his past, in trying to use his wealth of experience to understand the truth behind the situation. A genuine warmth for people perminates Lovejoy’s actions, whereas Ryder’s social confidence means that he can cope with otherwise tricky people and situations. I really enjoyed this book set in 1961, and revealing much about the pressures on the few women police officers at that time. This is a book which captures a certain place and time which finds echoes in contemporary life.