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by Andrew Taylor
New English Library, April 2002
373 pages
5.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340696028

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

DEATH'S OWN DOOR is the sixth in the Lydmouth series, set in a fictional town on the border between England and Wales in the very early fifties. The war has been over for some years, but the austerities, the greyness, the moral exhaustion that characterised the immediate post-war period are only now abating, and in Lydmouth, provincial town that it is, change takes place with glacial slowness. In Lydmouth, everyone knows everyone; everyone has a place in the social order; everyone has something to hide.

In the case of the two main series characters, Richard Thornhill and Jill Francis, it is their love affair. Richard is married to Edith and they have children; Jill is an unmarried journalist and the target of the prying eyes of a secretary who works at her paper.

This time, however, the story is less Richard and Jill's than Edith's, and characteristically for a Taylor novel, her involvement with a present murder is rooted in a 15-year-old event that pushed her life in the direction it took.

The secrets that must be kept are, of course, sexual. Here the issue is homosexuality, still illegal in the England of the period and subject to savage prosecution. Taylor's characters do not express attitudes toward homosexuality that are in any way ahead of their time; if anything, most of the men are exceptionally vicious in their views and it is a particular disappointment to find Richard is no exception. Acutely, however, Taylor recognizes that women, due in part to their secondary social position, might be rather more open to seeing past the offense to the human being.

I was never in the England of the time and place described here; for that matter, neither was Andrew Taylor, who is far too young. But I have no doubt that this is the way it was and also, as one review remarks, that the series turns the classical detective story "into a complex picture of our own past."

Writers of crime fiction set in the present are facing increasing problems in constructing believable plots -- new forensic techniques reduce the need for old-fashioned detection; contemporary sexual openness gets rid of a lot of opportunity for blackmail; no-fault divorce and pre-nups make spousal murder less probable. That pretty much leaves greed and jealousy, the psychological dimensions of which are not particularly interesting.

But human beings haven't changed much in fifty years and Taylor's fiction is dedicated to the notion that the past holds the key to understanding the present. The past he constructs is an absorbing place. You should pay it a visit.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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