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by Barbara Cleverly
Soho Crime, August 2012
352 pages
ISBN: 1616951540

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this 10th novel featuring Inspector Joe Sandilands of Scotland Yard, he resumes his role as the main investigator in a complex case that revives characters and elements from two previous novels in the series. Sandilands receives a dramatic phone call for help from a young schoolboy, Jackie Drummond, who may even be Sandilands' son from the romantic encounter in India ten years earlier, detailed in THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE. Jackie believes he has been responsible for the death of his form master. Sandilands rescues the boy from Victoria station and brings him home where he tells Joe and his sister Lydia what happened at St Magnus school. Sandilands notifies the school and the local police in Sussex that he is taking charge of the boy and will personally return him to answer their questions.

Before he leaves London, Sandilands is called in by his superiors who advise him that there is a history of disappearances of young boys who either left or were dismissed from St Magnus. So the double plot is laid out who killed professor Rapson, and what if anything does his death have to do with the missing boys? On the way to Sussex, the trio stop over at Lydia's country house where Jackie is introduced to his two young "cousins" and another quasi-relative, Dorcas Joliffe. She is an adopted niece, the daughter of a close friend and appeared as the tough teenage in STRANGE IMAGES OF DEATH as well as in TUG OF WAR. In both of those novels, Dorcas hitched a ride to the south of France to visit her father where she proved to have an amazing rapport with the young children belonging to the eclectic collection of artists in residence at her father's estate. Now at university studying psychology, she and Sandilands have been estranged for some years although there is also a hint of an attraction between these two in spite of their age difference. Dorcas almost immediately bonds with young Jackie and Sandilands realizes that her gifts as well as a female presence might be helpful and disarming at St Magnus during the investigation.

Once at the school, they discover that Prof.Rapson had been carrying out an extensive investigation of his own about the missing boys, that certain schoolmasters were attending conferences about eugenics and that Rapson had been pursuing one of the parlour maids, with little success. Most disturbing is the news that a boy whom Jackie had befriended has just disappeared while in transit to join his parents who are leaving the country. Sandilands realizes that a young teacher at the school, Mr Gosling, is in fact an MI5 agent also inquiring into events at St Magnus. Gosling was in fact told to get rid of Sandilands. Instead Joe commandeers him and what he has unearthed for his own investigation.

Leaving some of spade work on the murder case to the local authorities, the trio tear after the missing boy having uncovered information that he has not been delivered to his parents but to a mental institution, a clinic which also houses experimental labs. Dorcas again proves her worth, able to navigate their search through the buildings having spent time there as part of her university studies.

I found this Sandilands adventure a real page turner as Cleverley once more manoeuvres us through plot lines which not only involve criminal activity but also sets them within the context of historical issues endemic to this pre WW11 period. Shockingly perhaps, she reveals that belief in the practice of eugenics and purity of race were not the sole property of the Nazis.

This book is enjoyable for newcomers to the series as well as for those of us who are seeing her familiar characters grow and deepen in each new novel. And Cleverly always manages to introduce new characters who play key roles in a Sandilands' investigation and who may pop up in a future case.

Ann Pearson is a photographer and retired college Humanities teacher who lives in Montreal

Reviewed by Ann Pearson, August 2012

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