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by Catherine Aird
St Martin's Minotaur, February 2004
293 pages
ISBN: 0312290845

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Catherine Aird is a British writer of mysteries, mostly the series featuring Inspector Sloane. CHAPTER AND HEARSE is a book of short stories, several of which are about Sloane. There are also a few about Sheriff Rhuaraidh Macmillan set in 16th century Scotland when young Mary Stuart takes the throne. Sheriff Macmillan is a keen observer and hard to fool.

There are also a few stories about Henry Tyler, a Foreign Office civil servant. Several of the stories are puzzles the characters solve, such as Due Diligence about a murder committed with electricity, Time, Gentleman, Please in which Sloane and associates try to figure out how a Mata Hari meets with her handler, and Child's Play in which Tyler and a colleague try to figure out a code describing a new weapon.

Sloane is a clever character. His Assistant Chief Constable is an interesting old curmudgeon with a classics background. In the title story, Chapter and Hearse, the Assistant Chief Constable recounts a murder story and asks Sloane if it is interesting. Assured that it is, he reveals the murder happened in 1283 and that he is giving a talk about it.

The stories don't always include murder -- Examination Results is about theft from a pub's kitchen. The murders, when they do occur, are most unusual. In Like to Die the murder weapon is daffodil bulbs substituted for shallots in a casserole.

Aird has a nice style, rather insouciant. Her stories range over a breadth of time periods and places. Most are set in small-town England, but others are set in real or fictional far-flung places in the British Empire. In The Widow's Might, for example, she makes you feel the heat in Lasserta, while in Gold, Frankincense and Murder, a Henry Tyler story, the scene set is of a small town English Christmas in the pre-World War II era. Aird's stories have humor, historical detail, and well-drawn characters. Recommended.

Reviewed by Mary A. Axford, March 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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