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by Robert Barnard
Allison & Busby, January 2009
255 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749079495

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The 'Jubilee Terrace' of this book's title is a long-running and popular soap opera based and produced in Leeds. To boost the ratings and shake-up the cast the show's producer brings back the monstrous Hamish Fawley, playing a character called Cyril Wharton; his return puts everyone's nose out of joint. Charlie Peace's attention has been drawn to the soap because the police have received an anonymous letter alleging that the death of another character, Bert Porter played by Vernon Watts, was not the accident which everyone had assumed it to be. Whatever the truth of this it is undeniable that when Hamish Fawley and a woman are found burned to death the cause was arson and it is a murder investigation.

Robert Barnard, as all who read him regularly know, has become completely idiosyncratic over recent years. It is impossible to predict what the subject or tone of each successive book will be and Charlie Peace, when he appears, provides only the most nominal 'series' link (there is no series which is less of a 'series' as the term is now commonly understood by mystery fans; really this is a 'series' in the way that the Golden Age models were series - Poirot for instance). In THE KILLINGS AT JUBILEE TERRACE Barnard harks back to earlier works dealing with closed groups of people (the opera company of DEATH ON THE HIGH C's form an obvious example, and again there are obvious Golden Age references). Much of the book is broadly satirical and in Barnard's humorous vein. In terms of plot Peace has to work out which of the group of suspects, many with good motives for hating the victim, is in fact responsible.

Even those, and I certainly count myself among that number, who are Robert Barnard fans will probably not place this book among his finest work. The humour is somewhat laboured and soap operas provide too easy a target. Barnard's grasp of contemporary cultural realities appears a little shaky (although not as disastrously mis-placed here as in 2007's A FALL FROM GRACE). Above all however, the resolution of the plot and denouement are fairly standard. Barnard is capable, as very, very few other contemporary mystery writers are, of producing astonishing twists; in LAST POST (2008's excellent offering) he produced exactly that in the very last sentences of the book - a twist which not only came completely out of the blue but turned the book upside-down. Here I was not in the least surprised in the identity of the murderer and no such twists occurred.

In the worst of Barnard's there will always be some pleasures; the clarity and quality of his prose, the odd shaft of wit. This is certainly not among the worst (think of BODIES) but neither is it anywhere near the best of Barnard. For those new to him this would be a bad place to start (going back to the beginning and trying DEATH OF AN OLD GOAT is as good a place as any to sample his unique tone); those who know his work will look forward to a resumption of top form in 2010.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, March 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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