RogerBW's Blog

Bury in Haste, Jean Rowden 06 May 2015

2007 mystery. In rural Yorkshire in 1956, Constable "Thorny" Deepbriar is a village bobby who's always longed to try his hand at detection. Now he's going to get his chance.

A young man is kidnapped but turns up the next day unharmed, with no idea of what happened to him. Someone's interfering with a farm, letting the cows out and setting fire to barns, but the obvious suspect has his leg in plaster. A farmer commits suicide because he hasn't heard from his ne'er-do-well (but only surviving) son for more than a year. The kidnapping is written off as a drunken prank (the man's newly married), but Deepbriar knows the victim isn't the sort to hang around with people like that, and carries on his own investigation in the little free time he has. And then there's the local operatic society…

This is an effective period piece; I didn't spot anything to throw me out of the sense of a contemporary novel. Just as in books written at the time, nobody really likes to talk about the war, though almost everyone was involved in it in some way. (They're more likely to mention the First World War, since several of the older men were formed by that.) There's a Local Villain whom the police can't touch, and an increasingly contradictory series of clues, though something seems to be pointing to the disused air base.

Characterisation is pretty good here, though not especially deep: particularly well-observed are the son of the pub landlord who's not tall enough to be a policeman but who hero-worships Deepbriar, the Artistic Spirit who's insinuated herself into taking over Deepbriar's organ-playing duties at the local churches, and the Detective Sergeant who's not as experienced as he seems and increasingly leans on Deepbriar to get the case(s) solved. The actual resolution is a bit disappointing, with the motivation for one of the murders left somewhat unclear, but the psychology of the criminal(s) is plausibly drawn (even if perhaps it wouldn't have been in the 1950s).

The atmosphere is sometimes laid on a bit thick (boy crippled by polio, check), but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Rowden was a young girl at the time the book's set, and while she didn't live in Yorkshire she seems to have captured something of the spirit of the era at least. This is an England that's been entirely remade by the war, but which hasn't yet quite realised how much has changed. Deepbriar may be the harmless village bobby, but even he finds himself threatening perjury to get a villain to reveal some key information.

A slightly odd book, combining surface nostalgia with surprising moments of grimness, but I shall be reading more in this series.

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