RogerBW's Blog

Wrack and Rune, Charlotte MacLeod 27 December 2015

1982 cosy American detective fiction; third of MacLeod's novels of Professor Peter Shandy, set at an agricultural college in Massachussetts. Hilda Horsefall is 105 years old and still keeping the family farm going, until her farmhand is horribly murdered. But is it just part of a land-grab, and if so who's trying to do it? And how is the Viking runestone on her land connected to everything?

This third book strays from the college setting, spending most of its time on the Horsefall farm and in the surrounding area, with a cast of locals who say things like "Excuse me, ladies, I don't gen'rally cuss in front o' females I ain't related to". There are nasty antiques dealers, property speculators, and other lowlives, as someone conducts a campaign of harrassment to get Hilda to sell her land. But, of course, some people's motivations are a bit more murky than that.

There's also an awful lot of whimsy, not only from the rude mechanicals but from the various college types who get dragged out when the stories of the murder and runestone blow up into a major local sensation. And then there's the question of an Ancient Norse Curse, which all too many people seem willing to take seriously.

There are perhaps just a few too many people here, Swopes and Lumpkins and Fescues, particularly since most of them are kept in play as suspects until the very last moments. Some of the best material is given to College President Svenson, a Viking born out of time, and his wife Sieglinde.

"He lived in happy monogamy with your Great-aunt Ylva until her untimely passing at the age of eighty-nine. Naturally he is lonely without her and seeks other feminine companionship. You would do the same."

"Hell, you'll outlive me by forty years," cried Thorkjeld in panic.

His wife shook her noble blond head. "I shall not. Life without you would be unendurably serene."

While the mystery itself isn't trivial like some of those in MacLeod's earlier books, one feels it was still mostly the frame on which the characters could be hung. Enough of them are good that one doesn't really mind, but this is lightweight even by her own standards. Followed by Something the Cat Dragged In.

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