I've been very much in the mood to read cozy, or at the very least detective/police procedural type, mysteries lately. Whenever I find a series I like I think I will pick up the next book directly after reading one, but then usually opt to read something entirely different for a change of pace. Andrew Taylor's Lydmouth books, however, have totally captured my imagination and I feel like gulping them down in one go, and I suspect I'll have them all read (there are a mere eight) by the end of the year.
Following hard on the heels of The Mortal Sickness I picked up The Lover of the Grave, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Lydmouth books are quickly becoming my favorite mystery series and are a fierce rival to Maisie Dobbs (no worries, though, as I'll always love Maisie). I'm not sure how other readers approach books. Maybe the story is read at arm's length, sort of looking in from the outside or with a critical eye, but I admit I am the sort of reader who gets totally involved in the story (especially with good stories, the ones that allow the reader to become involved) and even more, totally involved with in the characters' lives. Sometimes I'm not sure that is always a good thing as then there is a sort of emotional attachment, but I can't help myself, especially if I'm going to spend hours with these characters.
I've heard other readers say the same thing--the mystery genre is attractive as the world will be (hopefully) set to rights at the end of the story. As awful as a crime may be there is something comforting about knowing that in the end there will likely be a satisfying solution to a puzzle. Of course with the Lydmouth books, much of the appeal is not just the working out of a mystery, but the ongoing drama of the lives of the residents in this fictional English village. Taylor does atmosphere well, and you get such a good sense of what Austerity Britain must have been like since the books are set in the 1950s.
In The Lover of the Grave a body has been found strung up from what is locally known as The Hanging Tree. As his pants are found loosed and around his ankles there's confusion as to whether it was murder or suicide, or some accident as a result of a strange sexual practice gone awry. To muddy the waters even more, when Inspector Thornhill breaks the news to the victim's wife, she only throws her head back and laughs. It turns out the man was a twin, and neither brother is entirely respectable. Mervyn Carrick had been a housemaster, recently promoted, at a local public school for boys. Thornhill finds a discrepancy between what he hears about the victim and what the school's headmaster relates, edging the case closer to the possibility of this being murder than an accident by misadventure or suicide. The clues don't seem to add up either way.
Along with a murder Inspector Thornhill has a peeping Tom on his hands to deal with. Not only has it been brought to his attention that someone has drilled holes in the ladies lavatory in the local park, but there have been complaints about someone looking in windows from the fire escape at the hotel. One of the victims being a popular movie actor returned home from America and visiting friends in Lydmouth. Curiously the friends are the headmaster and his family at the boys school making for bad timing, or maybe not entirely coincidental.
I'm making this all sound a little quotidian, and in a way it is, all the little daily ins and outs of village life, but therein lies some of the charm of these stories. Inspector Richard Thornhill is married with top children, but it's not entirely an entirely happily relationship. His wife tends to want to mother him when he would prefer having a partner. And Edith resents the long hours and attention he gives his work and doesn't give her. And then there is former Londoner Jill Francis who is a reporter for the Lydmouth Gazette, all beauty, sophistication and independence. Both Jill and Thornhill are outsiders who add another dimension to Lydmouth since the small community is viewed through their eyes.
I must say this particular story exudes sex. Nothing obvious really, but for a small, respectable town (and one burdened by the cloying morals of the midcentury) passions are seething beneath the surface. Despite the chilly February weather that always seems to be a hindrance, there is still something in the air. And there is a tension between Jill and Richard that of course makes for interesting reading. Neither admits the interest and desire each has for the other, or almost not, yet it still weighs heavily every time the two must interact. Jill is usually peripherally involved in the solving of the crime, and being a reporter/writer she has a keen sense of digging for truths and unsurprisingly is often in the thick of things. Perhaps part of the tension comes from the interest shown in Jill by the returned movie actor, which is witnessed by Thornhill. In a small town everyone lives in each others' pockets, so there are rarely any secrets, or not for long anyway.
All in all a satisfying read. I'm really enjoying reading about the characters' lives--even the secondary ones, which I've not mentioned here, are interesting. I've already pulled out book four, The Suffocating Night to start soon. I've had the urge, however, to read John Lawton's Black Out first. It's set in WWII London, and Sargeant Troy is an intriguing character (more about him later). It's a cross between a mystery and a spy novel, so I've been particularly interested in trying Lawton. I'm almost finished with Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library, and Dorothy Sayers' The Nine Tailors is my new gym book. Can you tell I'm binging on mysteries at the moment. Happily so!