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by Martin Edwards
Allison & Busby, February 2007
288 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749081112

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Martin Edwards’s third Lake District cold case mystery is a curious production. We know from the prologue that a woman killed a man. We do not know why, where, or exactly when. We learn in the first chapter that Emma Bestwick disappeared ten years ago. By the time we are one-third through the novel we know what happened to her, but we do not know why. We also learn in the first chapter that a man named Guy has returned to the Lake District for some purpose, but we do not learn what it is.

Thus we have three mysteries. But we have no idea what any one of them really is, how or if they connect, or why we should care. Nor are we going to be given any real clues to work on until all (or almost all) is revealed about each of the three near the end of the novel. It is a tribute to Edwards’s skill as a writer that we want to keep reading, that we are not bored as we blunder along trying to keep all the relationships straight.

For we have a relatively large cast of characters, both living and dead, that we have to sort out. There is Emma herself: restless, never satisfied, the sudden inheritor of a large sum of money from an unknown source. There is the mercurial Guy Koenig, aka Robert L Stevenson, who fancies himself something of a Jekyll and Hyde as he sets about merrily to seduce his landlady, Sarah Welsby, in order to get her money.

Guy knows where Emma’s body is and alerts Tony Di Venuto, a hotshot journalist, to its hiding place in the 'arsenic labyrinth,' a maze of old mining shafts and tunnels. Both Sarah and Tony, we learn late in the story, have their own secrets too and are both in their own ways con artists.

Then there are Emma’s sister and her husband, Karen and Jeremy Erskine. A history teacher at a private school, he was one of the last to see Emma alive. There are Jeremy’s first wife and her second husband, Vanessa and Francis Goddard, respectively a librarian and a nurse. Emma was staying with them when she disappeared. And there are the Cloughs, Alban and Alexandra, father and daughter, owners of the Cumbria Museum of Myth and Legend. Emma worked for them briefly when she and Alexandra were lovers. All six present a smooth face to society, careful to conceal more than they reveal.

We also continue our acquaintance with the quartet of characters whom we met in the first novels in the series and watch as their alliances continue to shift. Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett’s attraction for historian Daniel Kind, the son of the detective who trained her, continues to flame; she thereby continues to feel guilty about her less than passionate relationship with the antiquarian bookdealer Marc Amos.

Daniel gave up a career at Oxford University to move to the Lake District with a London magazine editor whom he’d met on the rebound after the suicide of his wife, but his and Miranda’s relationship, to the relief of both of them, is fast unraveling.

Retired police officer Les Bryant also returns in his role as adviser to Hannah’s Cold Case Review team. We discover that his marriage has just dissolved. (Curiously, team member Sergeant Nick Lowther, having trusted Hannah with his very career in the previous novel, is here relegated to an offstage position, so we gain no idea what effect, if any, his confession has had on his home life.)

Ultimately, however, we do not have a mystery novel so much as a portrait of various segments of British society tied together by a set of common themes. For one thing, the novel examines the past’s sometimes poisonous hold over the present. So many of the characters are involved with history, but their research seems to burden rather than to free them.

Above all, the novel is about deceit, betrayal, the fickleness of the human heart. Every one of the major characters has been or is going through a divorce or an emotional separation of some kind. Each displays a moment of pure selfishness. Not a one is capable of being completely, totally open and honest with other people. Edwards ultimately suggests that the labyrinthine quality of the human condition is a more baffling mystery than is the case of whodunit.

Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, April 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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