Saturday, December 06, 2014

ENTER PALE DEATH, Barbara Cleverly: Marvelous Addition to the Joe Sandilands Series

A quick count suggests that ENTER PALE DEATH is number 12 in the Joe Sandilands Investigations. I'm an enthusiastic reader of this series from Barbara Cleverly, which opened in colonial India with Joe turning to detection after the horrors of his World War I service, and soon moved "home" to England. ENTER PALE DEATH begins in spring of 1933 with the death of Lady Lavinia Truelove, presumably by horse-related accident, at her country estate. And that means that for Joe, any contact with investigating this death -- and others, some quite a while ago, in the neighborhood -- is fraught with career danger. For Lady Truelove's politically limber husband is moving toward becoming Joe's boss.

Which only goes to show that even as an Assistant Commissioner, Joe's police role is rarely secure. Nor is his romantic life, which involves a much younger woman determined to bring him into committed bliss. (He's only half averse.) And she too, as it happens, is connected with Sir James Truelove.

This is a scrumptious traditional mystery, involving country knowledge, local wisdom, Joe's ability to suss out who's naughty and nice, and a pervasive strand of long-term evil and manipulation in an otherwise charming locale.
"Someone in the village knows, evidently," said Adelaide. "The knowledge was passed to -- sold to -- Lady Truelove, with awful consequences. Lure swapped for bate? Now that's malice aforethought."

"I'd call it murder," Hunneyton said.

"But murder that's almost impossible to prove," Joe warned. "I hardly like to think why we're even bothering to attempt an inquiry."

He was shot down by two focussed glares.
Some of the best of English folklore and tradition is threaded through this lively mystery, with even an appearance of the powerful and dangerous Green Man of old. Satisfying sorting of a pleasantly complex plot and a set of side characters that come with layers of their own make this one of Cleverly's best. Highly recommended for enjoyable mystery reading -- and, considering the season, it's also a winner on a gift list. Great timing, from Soho Crime.

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