books

Caroline Graham

Books

Chief Inspector Barnaby: The Killings at Badger’s Drift (1987), Death of a Hollow Man (1989), Death in Disguise (1992), Written in Blood (1994), Faithful Unto Death (1996), A Place of Safety (1999), A Ghost in the Machine (2004)

My reviews for Caroline Graham

 

Chief Inspector Barnaby

 

The Killings at Badger’s Drift (1987)

This is actually the first Inspector Barnaby mystery. How annoying when publishers only have part of a writer’s catalog and one is deluded into thinking you’ve read the first book in a series, only to discover you were terrible wrong.

So this is the book where we first meet Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby. And we also first meet Sargent Troy. And of course the characters involved in the murder and mystery. Emily Simpson accidentally sees an assignation in the woods, and the next day is discovered dead in her home. Because of her age, the death was immediately determined to be natural causes, but her best friend, Lucy Bellringer, doesn’t accept that verdict, and insists that her death was in fact unnatural, and that someone should look into it.

As the mystery unfolds, secrets are uncovered and various individuals of Badger’s Drift look good for the murder. And of course other deaths are discovered, which may or may not have been accidental.

This story certainly twists and turns, leading you first in one direction, then in another. At first I was sure I knew who the murderer was, then I changed my mind, then I discovered that I really had no clue at all. Not that it all wasn’t there from the beginning–I just never expected things to turn out the way they did.

There are a lot of unsavory characters in Badger’s Drift, hidden beneath the expected respectability of a country village, which is of course the heart of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books, except that the sleuth here is a police inspector. A man who is good, and who is complicated. And interesting.

‘Did you enjoy looking round? What did you think of it all?’ Then, before Barnaby could reply, he continued, ‘I’ll tell you, shall I? You don’t know anything about art but you know what you like.’

Stung by this patronizing assumption that he was nothing more than a flat-footed clodhopping philistine, Barnaby retorted, ‘On the contrary. I know quite a lot about art and I think you have a most remarkable talent.’

Inspector Barnaby loves his wife, even though she isn’t perfect.

It was not just that she couldn’t cook, it was much, much more. There was between her and any fresh, frozen or tinned ingredient a sort of malign chemistry. They were born antagonists.

Which of course makes it far more real.

Interestingly, Troy is slightly less annoying in this story than he is in later stories, but he also plays a smaller part–his character is not as developed as Barnaby’s, and we haven’t yet discovered that he has plenty of strengths and weaknesses–some more offensive than others.

The version I read, published by Felony & Mayhem, is a British publication, which means that single quotes are used instead of the double quotes. Didn’t affect the reading at all, but it was interesting. The book is also full of British foods and stores and places and streets, some of which were not obvious to this American reader off the bat, but that was, for me, part of the fun of the story.

I still don’t see the “best detective writer since Agatha Christie,” I mean, she’s good, but as much as I like Inspector Barnaby (and I like him quite a lot) he still lacks that ineffable quality that drew me to Miss Marple, and keeps me re-reading those books years later.

Despite not quite being Agatha Christie, any fan of British mysteries (and these are most definitely British) should enjoy wending their way through this story.
Rating: 7/10

Publisher: Felony & Mayhem Press

Re-Read: March 2018
Rating: 7.5/10

Death of a Hollow Man (1989)

Death of a Hollow ManThe Causton Amateur Dramatic Society is putting on Amadaeus, and its a seething pit of dramas and resentment.

He always tried to get home before his wife, not only because she hated finding the house empty but because he looked forward to hearing the continuing saga of theatrical folk that started almost the minute she came through the door.

There are lots of unlikable characters, but the least likable of the lot is Harold.

He had long been aware that if it had not been for his careless early marriage and the birth of three numbingly dull children—now, thankfully, boring themselves and their consorts to death miles away—, he would currently be one of the top directors in the country.

I was kinda hoping he would be the one to get killed.

Inspector Barnaby’s wife Joyce is involved with the group, and so Barnaby also gets to hear all the details, and when a crime occurs, is in place to start solving the mystery.

Couple of notes. This was written in 1986, and set in the theater, so there are gay men, but surprisingly, they aren’t horrible caricatures. In fact, I liked Avery very much.

Tim and Avery sat at a table, their heads close. They stopped talking the moment Nicholas entered, and Tim smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We weren’t talking about you.”

“I didn’t expect you were.”

“Didn’t you really?” asked Avery, who always thought that everyone was talking about him the second his back was turned, and never very kindly. “I would have.”

Not that there isn’t blatant homophobia.

After showing in Tim and Avery, Troy pointedly moved his chair several feet away. Then he sat, legs protectively crossed, giving off waves of masochistic fervor, his breathing ostentatiously shallow. One might have thought the air to be thick with potentially effeminate spores, a careless gulp of which might transform him from a sand-kicker supreme to a giggling, girlish wreck.

But since the homophobic character is a jerk, it hardly qualifies.

I also liked Diedre, who is also a product of the times in how she is treated by the men with whom she deals.

She had been brought up to believe that you never spoke ill of the dead. As a child, she had assumed that this was because, given half a chance, the dead would come back and savage you. Later she modified this apprehension to include the understanding that (a) if you only said nice things about them, they might put in a good word for you when your turn came, and (b) it just wasn’t honorable to attack people who couldn’t answer back.

It’s an interesting mystery, and I wish the library had more than two books of the series.
Rating: 7/10

Publisher: Felony & Mayhem Press

Faithful Unto Death (1996)

Faithful Unto DeathI picked up a later book in this series somewhere, and being the way I am, decided to go back and start at the beginning of the series. Too bad for me. This isn’t the first book in the series, it’s simply the first book published by St. Martin’s Press.

Although Faithful Unto Death introduces us to Chief Inspector Barnaby, is primarily about Chief Inspector Barnaby, the first character we meet is Mrs Molfrey, a somewhat batty old woman who lives in the village of Fawcett Green. I was initially disturbed at this, as I wondered if this woman was supposed to be a Miss Marple character, but seemed to lack most of Miss Marple’s virtues. Luckily, Mrs Molfrey wasn’t the main character of the story, and became less annoying as the story continued.

What I found most interesting about Faithful Unto Death were the many vivid characters that filled the story–some likable and some rather distasteful, but all interesting and realistic. Sargent Troy was probably the worst of the lot, but as much as I found his attitude annoying and unpleasant, I found it quite realistic, in that I have met plenty of people like Sargent Troy–shallow and self-centered and destined never to succeed because they can’t see past their own desires and prejudices.

I found the story fascinating, and the mystery was both good and enjoyable, as the plot twisted on way and then another. But the ending was perhaps the best part, as it was both unexpected and realistic.

Do I think she’s one of the best detective writers since Agatha Christie? Not really (or at least not yet, this is only the first book I’ve read). But this book was very good, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an open mind who enjoys unexpected twists.
Rating: 7/10

A Place of Safety (1999)

A Place of SafetyI only meant to read a couple of chapters of A Place of Safety. Unfortunately, an interesting combined with difficulty getting to sleep after an afternoon nap meant that I read the entire book yesterday evening.

A man witnesses what appears to be a woman pushing a girl into the river. His response is not to call the police, but instead to write a blackmail letter. The man is found dead later, however, the woman he is blackmailing couldn’t possibly be the killer.

As I said, this book ended up drawing me in so that I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. Again, I really like Chief Inspector Barnaby. He’s a very realistic character, with very human interests and foibles.

But I also like the other characters that fill the book, and the fact they seem very realistic. Barnaby is a genuinely good person who has his problems, but the people who are not so good, are not evil for the sake of being evil, but have beliefs that lead them to justify their actions. Again, Seargent Troy is a perfect example of this. As much as it would be nice to hate him for being something between an idiot and a jerk, you do see that he has some redeeming values. And to be honest, they are far more Seargent Troys in the world than there are Inspector Barnabys. People are shallow and self-centered and that’s just the way things are. And it’s that realism that draws me into the story.

Of course the characters involved in the mystery Barnaby must solve are just as complex. Couples fall out of love yet stay together for reasons that no one can explain. Obsessions develop and destroy the lives of the obsessed. And not everyone who does good is a good person. I simply love the fact that she creates such realistic characters.

The mystery in this story was also good, and although I knew the murderer relatively quickly, the greater mystery was why people acted they way they did. And like real life, some of those mysteries can never be resolved.

There are also some very funny lines in the book–they even made Michael grin when i forced him to listen to me reading them aloud.

She had never thought if herself as an imaginative woman but now her mind started running every which way. All those stupid soaps–that’s what (her husband) would have said. They turn your mind, woman… If this was television, her husband would have run off with another woman. (Her) heart, which had leapt very briefly in her flat chest at this very notion, got a grip on reality and thudded back into its usual place. Let’s face it, she sighed aloud, who in their right mind would want (her husband)?

My only concerns about this book are whether there is a little more sex in it than my grandmother will be comfortable reading. There isn’t any explicit sex, but it’s there and it’s obvious. Guess I’ll see what she thinks of the first book.

As with Faithful Unto Death I very much enjoyed A Place of Safety and recommend it for those who enjoy mysteries.
Rating: 7/10

A Ghost in the Machine (2004)

A Ghost in the MatchineGhost in the Machine may be my least favorite Inspector Barnaby mystery so far, because it takes us forever to actually get to Inspector Barnaby, and even once he becomes involved, we still spend a great deal of time with the characters involved in the murders.

What Caroline Graham is very good at, is creating realistic characters with realistic foibles and true to life reactions to the events around them. The relationships between Kate, Mallory, and Polly Lawson was complex and realistic, from the parent-child relationships, to the reactions they have to the events that unfold around them. This relationship was probably the most fascinating part of the book.

The other characters I particularly liked were Karen and Roy, their very complex relationship, and the solution to the problems that evolve around them.

SPOILER (rot 13)
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END SPOILER

There were also many unsavory characters, that were not particularly pleasant to read about, which tended to make this a rather difficult story to read in some ways. Both Andrew and Gilda were rather nasty, and having no sympathy for them, I found it difficult to read about them, wanting instead to skip onto a less horrific character. I realize that I earlier praised Caroline Grahams complex characters, but it is difficult to read about individuals that are so unremittingly unpleasant and deserving of each other.

I don’t think I’ll run right out and pick up the rest of the Inspector Barnaby series just yet–for one thing I’ll see what my grandmother thinks of the books I have.  I may want to spend my money on something she’s a little more likely to enjoy, and I am simply not sure how she is going to feel about this series.
Rating: 7/10