This week has seen the demise of writer Nicholas Rhea, aka Peter Walker, who wrote the books that formed the basis for the long-running Sunday night TV serial Heartbeat. Set on the North Yorkshire Moors in the 1960s, it was a nostalgic look at a bygone era of policing and community service that lasted for a generation (18 series). In addition to writing over 130 books, Walker was also a prolific columnist, and had a weekly page in my local paper (the Ryedale Gazette and Herald), which was syndicated widely . He was born and brought up on the moors, and had an unrivalled knowledge of their history and folk customs, as well as bringing a detailed perspective on natural history. Locally, he is simply irreplaceable.
I know it’s almost Easter, but I’ve been reading “Another Little Christmas Murder” by Lorna Nicholl Morgan. It was originally published in 1947, but was revived last Christmas with a suitably ornamental cover. A young career woman, Dilys Hughes, is driving across the Yorkshire Dales in a snowstorm, when she comes off the road at a dangerous spot. Another motorist, Inigo Brown, stops and offers to take her to his uncle’s house, Wintry Wold, for the night. ( I know the roads north of Reeth, and they’re not a good place to be stuck in your car, but Wintry Wold? Too southern, too twee.)
On arrival, though, the much-younger and recently married Aunt Theresa, an annoyingly teeny and delicate woman (I’m guessing the author was taller), is not pleased to see them, and prevents Inigo from seeing his uncle. As the snow builds up, it traps more and more people at the house, and when murder is done, everyone is under suspicion. Morgan has a comic touch, but is adept at ratcheting up the tension as people die or disappear.
This is a classic country house mystery, minus the aristocracy; the servants have at least as much a role to play as the owners of the house, although it can be hard to distinguish between them – I found myself leafing back on several occasions. It’s a light and enjoyable read, and I’m glad it was rescued from the snowdrift of obscurity.
Speaking of snow, guess what’s due tonight? This book is probably more appropriate than anything featuring poisoned Easter eggs or homicidal bunnies. (Not that I could find any. Big gap in my collection. The nearest was Louise Penny’s “The Cruellest Month”, meaning April.( If T.S. Eliot had lived in the north, he’d wouldn’t have seen lilacs until May, and there goes the whole poem.) Or G M Malliet’s “Pagan Spring”. I’ll be having my own Easter egg hunt for springlike mystery novels.)