I've added Detective Chief Inspector John McLeish and Francesca Wilson to my list of interesting and likable sleuths to follow. Death on Site, published in 1989 is actually the second mystery in a series that consists of about seven books. Janet Neel appears to have published her last novel in 2005. I am never sure if this is a good thing or not--I now have half a dozen books to look forward to reading (without the added 'frustration' of falling behind as the author publishes ever more books . . . that I can't keep up with), but once I am finished reading, I'm finished reading.
I was hesitant to share the cover illustration of my book. The title, while somewhat descriptive is not especially catchy but the cover design is downright cheesy. The paper edition came out in the early 90s. My how far we've come in terms of jacket illustrations! Looking at the cover, what sort of crime do you think happens in the novel? How was the victim murdered? And what on earth does "on site" mean anyway?
Don't let the illustration put you off. Behind that cover lurks some very good writing, wonderful characterization and a very solid detective story. This is traditional, old school mystery-story-telling that is long on reality and short on showy-twisty gimmicks that are often just a dime a dozen. My only annoyance was self-inflicted as I thought I had picked up the first book when in actuality the scene was set and characters introduced in Death's Bright Angel, for which Neel won the CWA's John Creasy Award for best first crime novel in 1988. (I shall be backtracking now and returning to her first book).
This isn't exactly a cozy mystery, since DCI John McLeish is a tried and true detective, so nothing amateurish here. Francesca is his partner (romantically speaking) and a civil servant who has an issue with serious commitment and an independent spirit. She is also infinitely able when it comes to her job. She can be very no-nonsense and knows lots of the right people when it comes to getting things moving along efficiently.
When I realized I was jumping into an already established mystery series/relationship, I might have turned back and dug out the first book, but I was already hooked. I had begun investing myself emotionally into the lives of Francesca and John and was intrigued by the mystery. This is not a breathless sort of read where you are constantly on the edge of your seat, but it is a gentle crime-solving story, a puzzle. The actual murder doesn't take place until well into the story though there are hints along the way, so Neel gets you attached (even if you might not particularly like him) to the victim. You get to know Alan Fraser, a mountain climber, and his mates, as well as the woman who loves him, her family, her fiancé and by the time he exits feet first you feel a sort of attachment. Well, if not exactly an attachment since he wants only to climb mountains and not get tied down to any woman, you have been treated to a very well set up mystery where nearly everyone might have committed the crime and you have to find out who did it!
The story opens in Scotland where Francesca and John are having a holiday. They met in the first book and have a romance going but Francesca, divorced, isn't quite ready to make another commitment. John truly is on holiday and doesn't want to have his reputation follow him about so it is hush-hush that he is a detective. They happen to be out hiking one day when Francesca spots Alan Fraser climbing one of the mountains some distance above them. And then there is a person in a yellow slicker. And then suddenly the climber has plummeted down the side of the mountain. John is sure it will not be a rescue mission, but he sends Francesca for help and he climbs up to what he believes will be a body. As it turns out, and by sheer luck, the climber is still alive and not terribly hurt. Foul play is not assumed, just a case of very bad luck.
The bad luck, or rather foul play, follows Alan Fraser to London where he takes a job on a construction site (the "site" in the title), and when he falls again, he is not so lucky. And then the fun begins. Who is the murderer? The spurned lover? The fiancé of the spurned lover? The angry parents? The climbing partner who is vying for a spot of a climbing team going to the K6 (a spot more likely to go to Fraser since he is the better climber, more photogenic and charismatic)? Or is there something underhanded and illegal going on in the construction site that Fraser is a part of and something went wrong--he maddened the wrong person.
This is all why I kept reading rather than slipping the book back into the pile and reaching for the first book instead. I want to know more about Francesca and John and Francesca's very close and very musical family. Will the pair get together permanently? What was the case that John was working on in the first book that caused them to meet? And, well, I do love a well-plotted and very solid detective story. This series has just a little bit more since the DCI is joined by such a wonderful female character-outside the detective world yet an integral part of the story. This is one I can warmly recommend.