Book review: W J Burley — House of Care

Burley is best known for his Wycliffe series, but this book is a standalone psychological mystery, one of his few non-series books. Sixteen years ago Sir Henry Care’s first wife died in a fall from the folly tower on the family estate. In the meantime the estate, and the family, have slowly decayed. Sir Henry’s daughter by his first wife is convinced that she and her twin brother are resented and unwanted by the rest of the family, and resents them in turn. She’s manipulative and delights in stirring up trouble within the family, but she has also long taken an interest in the occult. She uses meditation techniques to recall memories of the day her mother died, leading to an accusation of murder against her stepmother. When she seeks to raise a demon to answer her questions about that day, she too falls from the tower. The drugs she used as part of the ritual cause hallucinations. Is it accident, suicide… or murder?

The characters and their relationships are well drawn and intriguing, but I found that the end of the book fell flat. The solution to the puzzle is offered, but there isn’t enough in the book to support it as the right and natural solution. It feels more as if having set up a number of candidates, the author picked one at random. The book’s worth reading, but I think not really worth paying more than reading copy price for unless you’re a completist.

It’s currently out of print other than in the UK Large Print edition and possibly the audio book, but as Orion are busy working their way through a re-release of the Wycliffe series, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was re-released in paperback in the next couple of years. In the meantime, here are the Amazon links for second-hand copies:

Amazon UK:
The House of Care Walker and Co hardcover (US edition?)
The House of Care paperback (US edition, I think)
House of Care Gollancz hardcover (UK edition)
The House of Care: Unabridged Magna Large Print Books edition, 2001, in print but special order
The House of Care: Unabridged audiobook, which appears to be still in print as a special order

Amazon USA:
The House of Care paperback
The House of Care hardcover

Book review: W J Burley — Wycliffe and the Guilt-edged Alibi

A fairly early entry in the Wycliffe series. This one was written in 1971, which affects the social assumptions underlying some of the plot. A woman’s body is recovered from the river, reviving old scandals that others would prefer to keep quiet. Caroline Bryce was the half-sister of an important politician, and the wife of one of the owners of a major employer in her village — but she had married her much older husband at a very young age, and was already pregnant when they married. Wycliffe has to disentangle the old secrets from the new in his search for the killer. Another death follows when it appears that he is getting close to the truth, and Wycliffe finds himself having to gamble more than once on finding adequate proof for something he suspects on skimpy evidence.

An excellent whodunnit with plenty of suspects and motives for Wycliffe and the reader to disentangle. Burley creates a strong sense of place with his depiction of the Cornish town of Treen, and some fascinating characters in the dysfunctional family that has been ripped apart by murder.

Book review: R J Burley — Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine

This is the last completed book in the Wycliffe series (Burley had just started a new book when he died in 2002), and revisits the characters from an earlier book. It’s set ten years after the events of “The Quiet Virgin”, but can be read as a standalone. Detective Chief Inspector Wycliffe is in even more melancholy mood than usual, for he has to face both a new, and _female_, commanding officer, and the murder of a young woman he knows from an old case. For Wycliffe the case brings both guilt at not having kept in touch with Francine, and pleasure at seeing other figures from the past. Some strands of the plot are obvious, but as a second murder and then a third violent death interrupt the police investigation the possiblities multiply.

One of the weaker books in the series, in my view, but still no disappointment. As with the series in general, it’s an enjoyable read for those times when you’d like something complex enough to be satisfying but short and simple enough to follow when you’re tired or distracted. Note that there are major spoilers for earlier book “A Quiet Virgin”.

Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at
Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at
Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at Barnes&Noble

Book review: W J Burley — Wycliffe and the Three Toed Pussy

In the first book of the long-running series, Detective Superintendant Wycliffe has recently moved from the Midlands to Cornwall, and is facing his first case on his new patch. A young woman, Pussy Welles, has been murdered. It becomes clear that the small village she lived in holds a good many people with motive to kill her. It seems that the case is easily solved when the gun used to kill her is found by chance, and a woman comes forward to report a telephone conversation with Pussy on the evening she was killed which implicates the gun’s owner.

Wycliffe has to arrest the man, but is not satisfied–something feels wrong to him. He keeps digging, and finds evidence exonerating the man–and a second potential suspect being offered to him. Someone is playing a game with Wycliffe, and there is more death to come before he manages to unravel the workings of a macabre puzzle.

Burley has packed a good many layers of move and counter-move into this short novel, and draws some fascinating characters–not least Wycliffe himself in this first outing for the detective. It’s an absorbing read, and I’m glad to see it’s being re-released by Orion towards the end of 2006 (ISBN 0752880845).