RogerBW's Blog

Fallen Into the Pit, Ellis Peters 11 October 2022

1951 mystery; Peters' first mystery, and first about the Felse family. The War has come and gone, and the heroes have got their "thanks very much" and been thrown back to pick up what they can of their lives; and a German displaced person, working locally, causes so much trouble that nobody's at all surprised when his body is discovered in a stream. But even so, suspicion leaves everyone on edge.

Every so often I like to reread Peters' contemporary mysteries. I first met her writing in the Cadfael series, of which I enjoyed the first few but found the rest rather samey; however, in her modern-set stories, written before Cadfael, she shines. There's beautiful, lyrical writing here, and there's plenty of consideration of the real reason to try to catch a murderer even when everyone can agree that the killing itself was a good thing: someone made that decision on their own, they might make it again about someone else, and nobody can trust their neighbour.

Also, of course, this is a period piece, with the real feelings of the time: if this little ex-Nazi can carry on being a Nazi in all but name, what was the point of the war? Can someone who's spent years fighting alongside the Partisans really give up the casual killing and be content as a teacher in a small town? Or did he see a poisonous insect and decide to step on it?

We also get the Felses, George the village policeman, his wife Bunty, and their son Dominic. Dominic's at the focus here, as he discovers the body, and his enquiring mind wants to stay involved in spite of his father's best efforts. As a result, George's more official investigation is given less time in the text, which is a shame; but this is mostly a story of people and the amateur sleuthing Dominic does.

I thought a particular thing got mentioned at just a bit too much length to be as innocent a background detail as it's meant to appear, and I was right; but I have a nasty suspicious mind. This is a splendid book, sometimes awkward and uncomfortable when dealing with awkward and uncomfortable things, and perhaps dated in the Felses' family dialogue, but thoroughly rewarding if you can put yourself into something like the mindset of the era.

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