RogerBW's Blog

Corridors of Death, Ruth Dudley Edwards 26 August 2018

1981 mystery, first in the Robert Amiss series. After a meeting of a liaison group between government and industry, Sir Nicholas Clark, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Conservation, is beaten to death with an abstract sculpture called "Reconciliation". Everyone seems to have had a motive, and then another murder follows…

Everyong having a motive is of course one of the conventions of the detective story, but Dudley Edwards deconstructs it effectively by examining it: why should all these people, each of whom might be quite nasty but who aren't for the most part the sort to bash someone's head in, have plausibly murder-worthy motives against the same man? And why all at the same time?

Amiss was right. The man was clearly a Grade A shit. That was a relief. He couldn't afford to like another of his prime suspects.

Meanwhile, there's a setting which shares time and place with Yes, Minister, but in the end is slightly less cynical. Sir Nicholas may have been a horrible person, but most of the others are not; and the obligatory explanations of how the Whitehall Civil Service works, and what sort of people do well in it, are rather kinder than the broad satire of that other set of stories.

Amiss, Private Secretary to Sir Nicholas, is an amateur sleuth in the tradition of the novice thrown into the game, but he works with Superintendent Milton (formally in charge of the case) since they seem to understand each other.

"Not only, it seems, did you know the man better than anyone else, you are the first to have offered me anything other than pious crap. You can point me at likely suspects, help me to understand motives and explain to me what goes on in bloody Whitehall. And what's more, you have a cast-iron alibi unless you and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are involved in a conspiracy."

This isn't a story about timing and alibis, but a psychological consideration of motive and personality, so Amiss can provide Milton with the background information he needs, while Milton does the police-work and interrogation of suspects. The narrative follows their separate days, and then their evening meetings when they can compare notes and make further suggestions to each other.

All the people work as real people; even the minor background characters have something unexpected about them. For a psychological story, it's crucial to get the personalities right, and Dudley Edwards pulls this off superbly. (Though it's sometimes a little fiddly to remember which one's Nixon and which one's Parkinson.) Alas, the resolution doesn't quite work: there's a sudden inspiration, a thing for Amiss to find which nobody else has found (for no obvious reason), and a confession which for me doesn't fit the person we've met over the preceding chapters.

But in spite of that one significant drawback it works very well, and I'll look forward to reading more in this series.

Series recommended by Gus. Followed by The Saint Valentine's Day Murders.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Series: Robert Amiss | Next in series: St Valentine's Day Murders, The

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1