Burning to Tell


UP IN FLAMES: A Casey and Catt Mystery (#1)
Amazon, 2013
Geraldine Evans
 “Having parents who were out of their heads concentrated Casey’s wonderfully.”

Casey, one of the two detectives in this fascinating first-in-a-series, has a mom and dad still hung over from Beatles tours. That they had dragged their only child to India and left him on his own would have been tragic, but it prepared him to understand what was going on in his English market town when Chandra Bansi is found burned to death with her infant daughter.  For starters, he wonders what an Asian woman was doing living in a flat alone. The mystery deepens when he meets her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and grandparents, all living nearby in suburban comfort.

Will  Casey’s senior, Thomas Catt, is an orphan.  His superintendent is a slave to political correctness. Thus he is pretty much on his own following his instincts and using knowledge from his time in a place “that knocked your socks off – and then offered to wash them for you.” There’s a Sherlockian moment when he smokes with the aged hippies and his mind clears.

Geraldine Evans is well established as author of the humor-filled Rafferty and Llewelyn series, which I have not read and probably wouldn’t choose, but I think she has something really important here.  Her underlying question, “Do we know who we are?” applies not only to people struggling to reconcile two cultures, but to all of us who are reeling from unanticipated cultural change in our lifetimes. The burgeoning immigrant  populations of Britain have moved beyond cosmopolitan London, and the results have been documented by other writers, first and foremost John Waddington-Feather, whose Inspector Hartley solves cases in Yorkshire, with the aid of his Asian Sergeant Ibrahim Khan. These novelists go beyond genre entertainment to make us think about real and complex lives.

COINCIDENCE?  I discovered UP IN FLAMES on Omnimystery News. I can’t help but notice that in the last couple of weeks I have also found THE BURNING (Jane Casey); SMOKE (Bruce Rubenstein) and SMOKING RUIN (D.R. Martin).

CAPABLE OF MURDER; A Belinda Lawrence Mystery
Brian Kavanagh
Endeavor Press 2013

This is an old-fashioned English village murder of an elderly aunt with a secret she never gets to tell – perhaps more riveting in 2001, when it was first published. Still, if you like stories about a young woman uncertain who to trust of her two eager suitors, with mysterious figures lurking in shadows, and a stumbling chase in a tangled, overgrown garden, this could be a thriller. I liked it for the garden history and the houses, in their settings near Bath. I didn’t like the lead characters saying “Shut up!” to one another; this doesn’t seem English, and as it turns out Belinda is from New Zealand. Maybe that’s why she felt free to temp as a charwoman, a gimmick that got her inside houses to overhear phone conversations.

I did like clumsy Jacob accidentally spilling flower seeds on her in the train. It was a kind of foreshadowing of historic diagrams and a night of sex. Otherwise, it was a rapid page turner in the worst sense. I just wanted to find out who did it.

Now if you are really interested in garden history, there’s THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN, by Tim Smit, which chronicles the discovery and restoration of a vast botanical treasure left abandoned and neglected in Cornwall when its gardeners went off to The Great War. I’ve read that it is now open to visitors.

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