Picture a rectory in a small English village, and you will probably call up associations of sanctuary, harmony, shelter and reverence. Read a few chapters of this excellent crime novel and you'll see a very different picture. The vicar, no longer holding office in the church, peoples the childless household with young offenders serving their time of rehabilitation. For his wife, who owns the house, the nightmare of living in such a loveless marriage and such a dysfunctional household seems to turn into reality when she believes she has been responsible for the death of one of the inmates. Blackmail attempts follow, then murder. The case becomes one for Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy to investigate.
Author Caroline Graham is one of the best living practitioners of detective fiction. Her books have literary merit, the characters are as well rounded as is feasible in a whodunit game, and the denouements are neither too melodramatic nor too predictable. I can always read to the end with comfort, well able to remember and distinguish all the characters. There is a particularly venomous character here, Terry Jackson, who is hard to forget. Then there is the always sharply presented depiction of the Barnaby household, to which a son-in-law has by now been added.
Caroline Graham's Midsomer Murder novels appear every two or three years. This one dates from 1999 and is one of the best.
This book was not my favourite Graham, but a good one nevertheless. Ms. Graham's characterizations make her stories exceptional and this book is no different. This book starts with the death of an unpleasant man, and we the readers really don't care who did it, but Ms. Graham develops the other members of the village, and we suddenly find ourselves caring very much about some of the chief characters. This book is also different in that there is no real doubt as to the killer - the only thing is to try to flesh out the details as to why that particular killer killed that man and harmed that woman. This makes it a bit different than many other of her books. I certainly hope that this not her last effort in the Barnaby/Troy series. This book was written in 1999 and there has been nothing since then.