RogerBW's Blog

Another Man's Poison, Ann Cleeves 06 August 2016

1993 detective fiction; fifth of Cleeves's novels of amateur private detectives George and Molly Palmer-Jones. Elderly Ursula Ottway lives in a cottage on an estate in the Cumbrian fell country; when she finds her cats dead from eating poisoned bait, she threatens to expose her landlord, rising politician Marcus Grenville, since he's obviously been illegally poisoning raptors to improve the grouse shooting. The next day she's dead. But she was Molly's aunt, and George and Molly were on their way to visit.

Again for Cleeves, pretty much everyone here is a horrible human being in at least some ways, whether it's self-promoting politician Marcus Grenville, his controlling wife Olivia, dippy daughter Joanna or wimpish son Jeremy, or their respective significant others; or the gamekeepers, or indeed Ursula Ottway herself, who may have right on her side but is certainly no saint. Even our protagonists are not excepted: George and Molly end up competing with each other to solve the mystery first, and as a result there's more harm done than might have happened if they'd worked together.

The involvement of the amateur detectives in a case of murder is somewhat tenuous. George is employed by Marcus to prove that there wasn't any illegal poisoning going on; it soon becomes clear that things are not as they should be. Even once there is clear evidence of murder, though, the detective inspector in charge leaves George to get on with things, largely on the basis of George's pre-retirement reputation at the Home Office.

All the secrets come out, not only to the reader, but generally in public. And many of then were better left buried. The ending is extremely abrupt, with little comeuppance for the real villain of the piece except for having to live with everyone else's consequences. (And I thought the narrative was moving towards accusing that person of another murder, bs ure uhfonaq'f vapbairavragyl-certanag zvfgerff fbzr lrnef rneyvre, but after a solid line of investigation that thread was just dropped from the book.)

While it's sometimes a little dated (and I'd have guessed it had been written about a decade earlier than it actually was) this is a solid tale of betrayal, lust, tragedy and psychological crippling.

A note on sequence: some sources give this as #6 in the series and Sea Fever as #5, but as far as I can tell this was published in March of 1993 and the other book in May. Followed, therefore, by Sea Fever, though there doesn't seem to be any particular internal ordering.

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