” She gave curious attention to the open pages of the album. It was a pictorial family record, the kind that documents weddings and births, Christmas, Easter, and birthdays. But every picture that had more than one child in it had been cut up in some way, oddly defaced, so that pictures had central slices missing or wedges cut into them, and the size of the family was systematically reduced in every one. The effect was chilling. ” (Ch.6, p.141)
The debut novel introduces Scotland Yard’s inspector Thomas Lynley and his assistant, Barbara Havers, as they investigate a daughter’s brutal murder, a decapitation, of her deeply religious father. The odd pair, suave Lynley with a mix of bravado and sensitivity, and the utterly charmless Havers, is sent to the wilds of Yorkshire, where an obese girl has been found sitting by the headless corpse of her father, covered in his blood and proclaiming her guilt. She admitted to the crime and said nothing else.
The girl is sent to mental asylum. Lynley and Havers weigh in the general conviction in the village that Roberta Teys could not possibly have wielded the bloody axe against mounting evidence that damns the now catatonic girl. What confronts the Lynley and Havers is the question of mental competence arising out of her admission to the crime and her unwillingness to speak.
Tessa’s not dead, Inspector. She deserted William a short time after Roberta was born. He’d hired a detective to find her so that he could have their marriage annulled by the Church. (Ch.7, p.174)
The novel is undercut with many sub-stories that are interwoven into the main murder. These backstories provide a multi-layered insight into the dysfunctional family of William teys, whose wife ran away after being fed up in an unhappy and loveless marriage. She was barred from raising her children. The older daughter, Gillian Teys, also ran away to London she sought refuge in a church that accommodated runaway children. She is the important key to liberate Roberta’s silence.
The plot is slightly overloaded with clues, as the small Yorkshire village seemingly teems in bastard offspring, secret affairs, tangled relationships decoupled and recoupled, and, slowly to be revealed, as the Scotland pair sifts through the ashes of the past, for the two daughters of the murdered man, a long and brutal history of abuse. There is a psychological depth about the book that takes reader into a dark labyrinth of secret scandals. There’s also a rebuttal to religious stupidity that puts holy oath above the safety of children. It’s an impressive debut if not too overwrought.
413 pp. Bantam Books. pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow] Read in Pattaya, Thailand
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