RogerBW's Blog

The St Valentine's Day Murders, Ruth Dudley Edwards 29 October 2018

1984 mystery, second in the Robert Amiss series. Amiss is seconded to industry… well, to a dead-end privatised offshoot of the Civil Service where all the unemployables are sent to rot. And then people die.

Superintendent Milton is back, and the interplay between him and Amiss (and sometimes Milton's wife Ann and Amiss' girlfriend Rachel) is the real joy of the book. The work side of Amiss' life is pretty grim, among a bunch of no-hopers who mostly haven't quite realised that they've been shuffled sideways to a posting where they can't do any damage.

This is a more conventional detective story than Corridors of Death, without the deconstruction that was a subtext there; these people all seem like potential murderers. I found the motivations (both the actual one and the red herrings) a bit lacking, and never engaged much with the suspects. The cast is substantial, since it comes to include the wives of most of the men, and slightly ambiguous, since they're sometimes referred to by first name and sometimes by surname; I found it worth keeping a check-list of who was who. (Particularly since quite a few of them manage to break out of the stereotypes a bit later.)

For the most part the story is a timeless one, though there are some sudden reminders of its setting: an investigation into the older men's history of National Service (which had still been happening to a very limited extent as late as 1963) stood out more to me than the lack of mobile phones.

The dialogue is excellent, even among the no-hopers; the mystery is less engaging, and I wonder slightly whether it was mostly an excuse for writing about the people. (But without the spice of murder it would be a much duller book.)

Still, jolly good, and doesn't outstay its welcome. Series recommended by Gus. Followed by The English School of Murder.

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Previous in series: Corridors of Death | Series: Robert Amiss | Next in series: The English School of Murder

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