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by Robert Barnard
Allison and Busby, September 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0749082364

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

DYING FLAMES is a rum sort of a book. It's crime fiction in that a murder occurs, but otherwise there's an awful lot of talk and really not much action.

I hasten to add that it's not a terrible book, and I found it to be a quick and easy read, although I have to admit I did keep reading mainly to see if anything actually happened. But it's certainly not what you'd call a grabber -- which is a shame, given its central premise.

That premise concerns the sudden arrival of a pretty blonde teenager Christabel at the door of successful novelist Graham Broadbent with the words: "Hello dad." Graham works out he can't possibly be the girl's father, although he did have a brief fling with her mother Peggy.

But this minor detail doesn't stop him getting caught up with the weird dysfunctional family, and when Peggy is found murdered on Essex mudflats, Graham finds himself 'adopting' two teenage kids and asking lots of questions to get to the bottom of why anyone should want to murder a 40-something fantasist.

Barnard has won the Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger award, and has a colossal back catalogue. As I've never read anything else by him, I can't tell you if this rather flat offering is typical of his work. Whatever, I think it's a significant risk to leave it to page 160 (the book's only 233 pages long) before anything at all exciting happens.

The characters, with the possible exception of Peggy's son Adam, aren't that enticing either. And there's a faintly unsavoury feeling to Graham's relationship with Christa.

I think I was hoping for something a little more Margaret Yorke-like -- sinister goings-on behind the suburban doors of England's eastern counties. Instead we get a lightweight offering with a not awfully charismatic leading character (although there is a sudden weird and clumsy veering into Christa's point of view near to the end).

I'll take it on trust that given Barnard's pedigree his previous work is of a better standard than DYING FLAMES.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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