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by Peter May
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2010
250 pages
ISBN: 1590587170

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this fourth in the series,. Enzo McLeod, the half-Italian, half Scottish forensic scientist, sets himself to solve the puzzle of the murder of Adam Killiam twenty years ago. Thus he travels to the Ile de Groix off the Brittany coast to try to unravel who caused the death of that retired professor of tropical medical genetics from the University of London and an enthusiastic amateur entomologist. At 68, as he was dying from lung cancer, Killiam was shot and left for dead. As he lay dying, he phoned his daughter-in-law, and wit his last breaths told her that nothing should be touched in his study until his son could see it. It seems that he left clues that only his son could understand. The son died soon thereafter, however, and the study has remained untouched for almost twenty years. A man who had threatened his life days before the murder was arrested but found not guilty at the trial, though everyone in the island marks him as the murderer.

The narrative flows easily; Peter May knows how to make his characters come alive and how to make us see the setting. As a rule I'm not one to respond the geography of a novel. I prefer to immerse myself in the characters' personalities, but reading this book I felt the different aspects of the island, the vagaries of the weather and the suffocating atmosphere, to say nothing of the islanders' attitude to strangers. Though his speciality is forensics, Enzo unravels the mystery more by intuition than by test tubes. He meets the inhabitants, talks to them, drinks with them maybe too much, it must be said - and makes them tell things that have been hidden for many years. He discovers some very well buried clues in Killian's study and connects them to things he has seen or heard in the island. His gift is gathering something from those he deals with and fitting it into the puzzle.

We see something about his life too. In this fourth book in the series, May gives us enough to make understandable McLeod's past history whetting our interest in the man. We see his relationship with Charlotte, the lover who tells him she's pregnant by him. Her assessment of Enzo (twice married, old enough to be a grandfather rather than a father, climbing into bed with every woman he meets, drinking too much and putting his work ahead of family and friends) is a comprehensive indictment, but leaves out his compassion, his sense of justice, his understanding of the human heart.

This ageing hippie is not the only interesting character in the book, There is Jane Killian, the daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Servet, wife of the island medical doctor, and the 94-year-old physician Dr Gassman. The man originally accused of the murder but not convicted, Thibaud Kerjean, is a complex personality Enzo discovers in the course of the book. Everyone appears well delineated and in a few words we see part of their lives. The book is short by current standards and will appeal to readers who like strongly-plotted, polished mysteries.

Susy Puggioli is a retired literature professor who was born and lives in Argentina.

Reviewed by Susy Puggioli, May 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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