Monthly Archives:

Wychwood

Wychwood

George Mann’s Wychwood is billed as a cross between horror and crime fiction, with supernatural elements, which might lead one to believe that this would be closer to a work by Phil Rickman, or perhaps James Oswald. In fact, this is almost cosy in comparison, which could be due to its setting in the Cotswolds, which exert their own rose-filled influence over everything, in the same way that PG Wodehouse’s Honeysuckle Cottage turned a writer of lean muscular prose into something more winsome.

The newly divorced reporter Elspeth Reeves has returned to her childhood home, only to find that a murder has been committed in the woods behind her house, part of the eponymous Wychwood. She teams up with local policeman Peter Shaw, and together they discover the murders (plural, and rapidly increasing) are linked to the local legend of the Carrion King. I have one or two quibbles with the likelihood that any policeman would be allowed to take a friend with him to interview suspects, but fiction generally depends on the suspension of disbelief, so if you disregard the finer points of a police procedural, this keeps up the pace, and comes to a satisfying conclusion at the end. The supernatural element is vanishingly slight, the horror muted, and the overall effect is very Home Counties. A readable traditional cozy, no matter what the marketing would have you believe.

Borderlands

Borderlands

A bleak novel, this week – Brian McGilloway’s Borderlands, set on the borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the “soft” border that may be about to become a “hard”, or controlled, border again as Brexit looms. The past, including the pre-cooperation days of the controlled borders, casts a long shadow over this area, and Inspector Benedict Devlin of the Garda travels backwards and forwards over the border as he attempts to track the killer of a young girl, found almost naked in woodland, just before Christmas. She had been seen with a young traveller boy, and suspicion falls on him and his family. At the same time, Devlin is asked to investigate a break-in at an old people’s home, witnessed by the father-in-law of his ex-girlfriend.

The plot is as intricately enmeshed as the branches on a winter tree, and confidently handled, but this is a harsh world full of violence, with little in the way of likeable characters or any leaven of humour. McGilloway was shortlisted for a Debut Dagger for this, and deservedly so. And yet – pulls out soapbox and stands on it – I wouldn’t trust a detective that couldn’t be trusted with a dog, and Devlin is simply Too Irresponsible for Dog Ownership (TIDO). He leaves a basset hound (short-coated dog) in a shed each night, in the snow, at Christmas, and when the dog escapes and is accused of sheep-worrying, does he defend the dog, or take him into the house? Does he heck. I began by assuming this was the author’s way of telling us that Devlin was a villain (Hollywood code these days for a bad guy involves violence towards dogs) but no, it turns he was simply TIDO.  Violence, swearing, goes with the genre – total irresponsibility doesn’t, and annoys me no end. Other dog people may feel the same.

Date with Death

date-with-death

Julia Chapman’s Date with Death is the first in a series set in the Yorkshire Dales, in the fictional village/small town of Bruncliffe. Delia Metcalfe, recently divorced, is struggling to make ends meet with her dating business, and has rented out part of her building to an unknown stranger – who turns out to be the black sheep of the village, Samson O’Brien, who has returned to the Dales after a career in the police. No one is glad to see him return, except perhaps his feckless ex-alcoholic father, now in an old people’s home.

When one of Delia’s friends is found dead, the grieving widow asks Samson to investigate. However, more men in the area are winding up dead, and the one thing they had in common was attendance at one of Delia’s speed-dating events. Delia and Samson are forced to join up in order to catch the killer, despite their differences.

This is obviously intended to be the first in a series, with hints thrown out about Samson’s previous career that are never resolved (pet hate of mine). I also struggled to differentiate between some of the characters. That aside, Chapman has an engaging style of writing, and although the Cathy/Heathcliff sparring between the fell-running Delia and the darkly brooding Samson may pall without strong plotlines, this was a creditable first outing.