RogerBW's Blog

More Deaths Than One, Jean Rowden 25 April 2016

2009 mystery, third in the series. Constable "Thorny" Deepbriar goes to the local seaside town while his broken leg finishes healing, but he can't leave detection alone. Not only is someone stealing garden gnomes, but a body found on the beach is someone Deepbriar thought had died when he was a very green copper sixteen years ago during the war.

This book tastes of retcon. In the first two volumes, Deepbriar had been a village bobby who wanted to get into CID, but wasn't taken seriously. At the end of the second book, after he'd done something fairly impressive, he did finally get that transfer. But now Rowden feels it necessary to come up with a reason for why he was never taken seriously before, which turns out to be a blot on his record that was minor enough not simply to get him thrown off the force after the war but major enough to mean he never got promoted… and about the existence of which he never had any suspicion. I can't say that such a thing is impossible, but it felt too easy, too obvious, especially when it's clear that the blot is going to be erased by the end of the book.

Apart from that element the plot's pretty decent, though: one of the policemen back in the day was taking bribes from a local black marketeer, and whoever it is seems still to be in a position to confuse matters now. There's a Most Obvious Suspect as well as a Least Obvious one. Meanwhile Deepbriar catches up with an old mate fallen on hard times and even, occasionally, tries to work out what's up with those blasted garden gnomes.

It all burbles along in a fairly inoffensive way. There will be no great challenge here for the seasoned reader of mysteries. The lead investigator of the murder is too wilfully incompetent to be entirely interesting; I realise that one of the usual problems of the amateur investigation is to find a way to keep the police off-stage, and since this isn't Deepbriar's patch this is in effect a novel of amateur investigation, but again while I can't say that there wouldn't be an inspector who simply gets everything wrong and fixates on a particular suspect even when all the evidence points elsewhere I found myself distinctly lacking engagement as he did so.

The writing has no significant errors, and is less forced full of period detail than the earlier books, but never particularly sparkles. It's welcome to see that the plotting does get away from the repetititous elements of the first two books, but this is still middle-rate filler rather than a series anyone's likely to enthuse about.

Followed, I believe, by Gone Astray, but I don't have a copy (nor, I admit, have I looked especially hard).

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