It's been far too long since I read the first Inspector Thornhill mystery, An Air That Kills, and after reading The Mortal Sickness, I'm going to make sure as much time doesn't pass before I pick up the next book. I wonder why these stories haven't been adapted to TV as they would make a great series. The characters are interesting with an electric tension between them that I think will continue to build over the course of each book. The setting, a post-WWII English village known as Lydmouth on the border of Wales, would provide stunning visuals no doubt. I'm probably biased since this is one of the periods I most like reading about, as there was so much of interest going on at the time. It seems as though Andrew Taylor has only written eight books in the Lydmouth series (the last one published in 2006) and unfortunately they don't seem to have been published, or are no longer in print, here in the US. Used copies abound, however.
The Mortal Sickness takes place not long after the events in the first book. Inspector Thornhill, a transplant from the Fens, must investigate the death of a local woman whose body is found in the vestry of the parish church. Jill Francis arrives just as the Vicar, Alec Sutton, has discovered the body and realizes that a priceless church heirloom has gone missing. Jill had been sent on an errand to the church to ask the measurements of the Chalice for an article she had been helping with when she stumbles in on the scene and immediately gets whiff of a possible story.
Inspector Thornhill isn't the only one newly arrived to Lydmouth. Jill, reeling after the breakup of a serious relationship and still recovering from an illness, accepted the invitation of her good friend Philip Wemyss-Brown and his wife Charlotte to come make a new start in Lydmouth. Philip and Jill had worked as journalists in London during the war, and while she's close with the couple there are the beginnings of a strain on her relationship with Charlotte showing.
Jill is intelligent and sophisticated but reserved and perhaps comes off as somewhat cold. Thornhill isn't much friendlier and the two have clashed from the very beginning. Each finds the other's methods of working disagreeable, yet there is an undeniable spark that neither is quite willing to accept. Upon arriving at the crime scene when Thornhill spots Jill a look of annoyance comes over his face and Jill thinks how he might be attractive if he weren't so cross. A natty dresser for a policeman he might pass for a solicitor in other circumstances. Married with two children he and his wife enjoy a comfortable existence, but neither is particularly happy. He works too much and too long and she often puts him off when he is around.
There are hints, and much gossip fueling the talk, that Catherine Kymin might have been having an affair with the vicar who is also fairly new to the village. The Suttons are not forthcoming about their personal life and doubt is thrown upon his explanations of his behavior. It doesn't help that poison pen letters making accusations about his personal activities keep turning up. Quiet village life is never what it appears on the surface, and often the most insidious of deeds are done by those who are the least likely.
This isn't a story that will shock but one that slowly unravels to reveal dark secrets and misbehaviors. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Lydmouth and Taylor expands the cast just a bit to add a few more varying plotlines. As with the first book I enjoyed the mystery, but I'm more intrigued by Jill and Thornhill whose feelings are so repressed I'm not even sure how much they realize they themselves have them for each other. Taylor has created an interesting world, and no doubt an authentic one. There's still much civility between the sexes and unsaid rules as to how they can and should behave with each other. Yet the war changed so many things, sometimes turned a blind eye to who and how people related and interacted. And I can't wait to see how things develop and change.
I've just started reading The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, prompted by Cornflower's bookgroup (although her discussion has already come and gone). I've read Sayers before, but this is my first official Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, and I'm looking forward to finally meeting him properly. I've also got the next Lydmouth mystery lined up, The Lover of the Grave. I have a feeling this might be more of a cozy mystery year for me when it comes to mysteries and crime fiction, which is just fine if the rest are as good as this read has been.