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by Catherine Aird
Rue Morgue Press, February 2007
159 pages
ISBN: 1601870027

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A MOST CONTAGIOUS GAME is Catherine Aird's second novel and the only one not to contain Inspector Sloan and perhaps for that reason it went out of print some time ago. Happily, following a chance encounter during a fire drill at the Left Coast Crime Convention in Bristol in 2006, the author met the owners of Rue Morgue Press, and the novel has now been reprinted.

As a delegate at the convention myself I am delighted that some good came out of the repeated failure of the fire alarms in the middle of the night, because this is a novel that makes up for all that inconvenience!

Written in 1967, the novel hasn't noticeably aged. It is a gentle traditional British mystery set in the village of Easterbook near the fictional town of Calleford where 52-year-old invalid businessman Thomas Harding has retired with his wife Dora following a heart attack. Thomas has always dreamed of living in an old country house, but this manor house, chosen by Dora while he was bedridden, doesn't really cut the mustard with him, until he discovers a priest hole with a skeleton inside.

The Calleford police force observe the formalities but are more interested in finding the killer of a local woman than pursuing a potentially centuries-old crime. Thomas therefore has the opportunity to investigate for himself by researching the family history of the Barbarys who occupied the house for centuries, whilst developments in the modern day case play out around him.

Unlike the detective in Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME, Thomas can go out and investigate as long as he doesn't overexert himself, and we are treated to a picturesque country scene as well as some interesting history.

The characters of Dora and Thomas are lovingly drawn as are the villagers from the clergy to the tradespeople, to whom the Hardings will probably always be outsiders. As well as being very realistic they are at times humorous, particularly when outplaying the local police.

The plot relating to both mysteries unfolds convincingly, and whilst in the case of the skeleton this is largely through perusing old documents and books, and a healthy dose of surmising, in the modern day case Thomas senses there is something much more active afoot with the villagers, who refuse to accept the guilt of the missing chief suspect.

A MOST CONTAGIOUS GAME is a wonderful read, and would appeal to all lovers of traditional British mysteries, and those with an interest in family research, and historical themes too.

Reviewed by Bridget Bolton, March 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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