RogerBW's Blog

Sea Fever, Ann Cleeves 15 February 2016

1993 detective fiction; sixth of Cleeves's novels of amateur private detectives George and Molly Palmer-Jones. On a bird-watching boat trip, the sighting of a rare petrel is much more interesting than a birdwatcher who isn't where he should be. But then he turns out to have been murdered...

This is good workmanlike stuff, with lots of smouldering resentments that may have flared into murder, dark secrets in people's pasts, drug dealing, insurance fraud, and general griminess. The only real problem is that there aren't many people to like; apart from the feelings of the victim's parents, he's no particular loss to the world (something that often happens in an "anyone could have done it" murder plot), and nobody else is terribly sympathetic either. Even Palmer-Jones, the nominal series hero, blunders about and puts his feet into things; only his wife Molly manages to be a character one can cheer for.

On the other hand the writing is excellent, and while the pieces do fall into place rather neatly the mystery is mostly well-drawn, though with some reliance on coincidence. The climax does rely too much on a trap to gather evidence, and admitted irrational behaviour on the part of the killer; it's in character for that person, but feels a little lazy, and the backdrop of extreme weather against which it's played seems a bit out of place compared with the fairly normal events that have been going on for the rest of the book.

The coda is cut rather short; with all these various problems, one wants to know more about how or at least whether they were resolved, but the characters who aren't directly involved in the crime are mostly just dropped to get on with their lives. Realistic, perhaps, but not entirely satisfying.

Which is how I can sum up the whole book, really, except that I did enjoy it and am likely to try at least one more by Cleeves. Followed by The Mill on the Shore.

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