Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 Mysteries to Give to People You Like/Love -- 1

Why isn't Barbara Cleverly more famous? She's a top-notch writer with meticulous pacing and a deep and likeable detective Joe Sandilands; each time I pick up a new one in this series (2012 brought us number 10), I make time as soon as possible to read it -- because I know I'll be engrossed in the story, intrigued with the details, determined to solve the mystery/crime, and step out the far end of the book more relaxed and pleased with life.

On the other hand, there are three things that weigh against the books climbing the charts, at least in the United States: (1) The author is a former British teacher. (2) The books are set in the 1920s and 1930s. (3) In this Internet-conscious time, Cleverly appears to have no "official" author website. (Her Wikipedia page, here, notes her awards but even so is pretty sparse.)

OK, fine. She's not going to get famous. But her 2012 book, NOT MY BLOOD, gave me a very good couple of days last summer, and I'm recommending it as a gift to mystery readers this season, whether those readers are your friends/family, or -- just you!

It's 1933 in England and mid-winter as NOT MY BLOOD opens. One of the boys at a Sussex boarding school, Jackie Drummond, is contemplating running away. He has a list of resources that his mother, back in India, gave him, and on it is the name of Joe Sandilands -- who has settled back into postwar English life as a Scotland Yard detective, and in chapter 2 gets one of the strangest calls in his life, to come rescue his "nephew." What the boy discloses involves, blood, probably a murder, and a complicated and sinister situation that reveals that the school has been "losing" boys -- they've been going missing -- for years. That means there are jurisdiction issues, of course. Here's Sandilands trying to enlist the local police:
Sensing that the inspector was beginning to flounder, Joe took over. "I agree, it's a possibility which we must consider. And I concede that, sadly, it is a perversion that plagues the capital. Children are harvested, Martin -- scooped up off the streets and railway platforms. Bought and sold like apples. Sometimes by their own families. Our Vice Squad closes down one of their ghastly scenes of operation one day, to find it's sprung up the next in a neighboring street. But I expect you see as clearly as I do the essential difference between these operations and the potential horrors we could have to deal with here?"

"Oh, yes. Class. Wealth. These aren't kids off the street."
The strength of character that's made Sandilands a compelling character ever since The Last Kashmiri Rose  introduced him in 2001 overlaps with revelations from Joe's private life, and the involvement of small boys makes the risks and costs escalate in this mystery. A stunning historical puzzle emerges, and the finale is deeply satisfying.

Soho Press brought this out under the Soho Crime label; you might want to order two copies, so you can keep one for your own holiday pleasure.

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