64) WJ Burley — Wycliffe: Death In A Salubrious Place [audiobook]
Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs of the fourth book in the Wycliffe series. Jack Shepherd (Wycliffe in the tv series) does a good job on reading, and while I was familiar with the plot from reading the book some years ago, I think the abridgement should work reasonably well for someone coming to it fresh.
Fifth in the Wycliffe series, first published in 1974. A prostitute is found murdered in her flat, in circumstances that suggest a sex crime. But it’s obvious to Wycliffe’s team that the suggestion is deliberate, and they need to consider other motives. The only clue they have initially is that the young woman was clearly well educated and intelligent, with a clientele willing to pay a premium for that. With that, they soon trace her real name and background — the daughter of a well-to-do man, but both parents dead some years earlier, leaving only her and her brother.
As Wycliffe and his team trace the woman’s professional and personal contacts, they find more than one motive for murder. But nothing seems to quite fit the normal patterns. Lily was exploiting pillow talk to make money, but not in a way likely to provoke murder. She had some dubious connections with a record of violence, but they seem well-satisfied with the relationship. There has to be something else the team aren’t seeing, but it takes an arson attack and another death before Wycliffe has enough pieces of the puzzle to start to see a pattern. And even then, he’s not sure if it’s another pattern deliberately created for him to see — and if so, what it’s meant to hide.
Another well-constructed police procedural from Burley, with the clues laid out just clearly enough for the reader to stay slightly ahead of Wycliffe. As ever, much of the pleasure in the book is in the characterisations, giving it a good re-readability factor. However, I’d note that this is another title in the series which features a gay stereotype character and the normally tolerant Wycliffe’s homophobia as a significant element.
at the Book Depository
This book follows one of Burley’s standard formats, with a flashback prologue showing the reader a motive for a crime, then showing the crime that first brings Wycliffe into the story, and following the process of solving the crime. Here the motive is the vicious bullying of a young teenager on a school trip, and the crime is the separate murders of two young women. At first there appears to be no link between the two murders, but as Wycliffe digs into their past, he starts to find connections. Connections that lead him to a motive, other potential victims, and a race to find the killer. It’s not difficult for the reader to work out who the killer is, but the point of the story is to follow along as Wycliffe pieces together the fragments of information that might lead him to the next victim before the killer. It’s an entertaining read with some interesting character sketches, although be warned that the prologue could be triggery for bullying victims.
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
Fifteen years ago, the son of a prominent MP disappeared whilst on a coastal walking holiday after his release from a psychiatric hospital. The police had assumed suicide. Now his body has been found buried in the sand dunes, and it’s clear his father was right all along — the young man had been murdered.
A flashback prologue makes it clear to the reader from the start that a group of six teenagers having an illicit weekend were the last people to see Cochrane Wilder alive. The fun in the first half of the book is watching Wycliffe’s team slowly piece together the clues that lead them to first one member, then the whole group. But knowing that one or more of the group was almost certainly responsible for Cochran Wilder’s death and burial isn’t the same thing as being able to prove who did it and why — not when all six also have relatively innocent reasons for hiding their involvement in that weekend. And then a second murder is committed, making this more than just a cold case to be patiently unravelled…
As usual, a nicely constructed police procedural where the emphasis is on the characters and how they behave. Much of the appeal in this one is in initially knowing a little more information than Wycliffe does, and so being anticipating how the plot will develop — the amount of extra information you get is nicely played to provide a good balance between the enjoyment of working it out and the enjoyment of being surprised by other developments. I enjoy that style of procedural, so I liked this one a lot.
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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:
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
The House of Care paperback
The House of Care hardcover
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.
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 amazon.com
Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at amazon.co.uk
Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at Barnes&Noble
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).