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by Andrew Taylor
Hodder and Stoughton, October 2004
352 pages
ISBN: 0340825693

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Three years have passed since Detective Chief Inspector Richard Thornhill chose his unsatisfactory marriage and his satisfactory career and ended his affair with Jill Francis. She went off to London, where she was less successful than she perhaps had hoped, and now she is back, to take over the management of the GAZETTE, since its owner/editor is in failing health.

But though change comes slowly to Lydmouth, it does indeed come, and a major newspaper chain has its sights on acquiring the GAZETTE. Is this why a series of unpleasant events keep happening to people associated with the GAZETTE? Are the rats introduced into Jill's parked car the same rats nurtured by the murdered Dr Bayswater, under whose body is found a single yellow glove, presumably the property of an unaccountably absent television engineer? For television too has come to Lydmouth, and Richard's wife has bought one and now sits with her elder daughter transfixed in front of the screen.

All of these elements are stylishly and elegantly resolved in a satisfying and complicated plot. What cannot be resolved is the occluded passion still simmering between Richard and Jill in winter-heavy Lydmouth. This is just as well, since it promises yet further episodes in this unfolding social history of a British small city in the 1950s.

Andrew Taylor could give a master class in writing the historical novel and use his Lydmouth series as a text. On every page are subtle recreations of this relatively recent past era and reminders of how much has changed in the intervening 50 years.

Almost no one has central heating and thus all live in perpetual discomfort. Everyone, including doctors, smokes incessantly. Jill never leaves her flat without her hat and gloves. Television is new enough to require an 'engineer' to fit out sets for sale. For me, the single most telling detail was Jill's choice of scratch meal -- with no microwave and frozen entree from Marks and Spencer, she can choose between a tin of pilchards or a tin of beans.

In his recent film VERA DRAKE, Mike Leigh has provided a compelling visual recreation of a comparable period for London, but Taylor, in his patient accretion of detail over a series of novels, is even more complete. He might almost be seen as a George Eliot or Elizabeth Gaskell of our time, with the Lydmouth series as a single opus documenting a critical decade in social history.

In CALL THE DYING, Lydmouth is trembling on the brink of change and I for one can hardly wait to see it all unfold. Recommended without qualification, though the series should be read in order if at all possible.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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