Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Graham’

“Cakes. Great fat profiteroles of oozing cream. Slices of neat chocolate, alternately white and dark, held together with the merest scattering of liqueur-soaked ratafia crumbs. Cauliflowers of green marzipan, the curd made from ground almonds bound with honey and rosewater. Squares of rich shortbread studded with almonds and smothered with fudge. Milk-feuille layered with freshly pureed raspberries instead of jam, and creme patissiere. Lemon and orange jumbles drenched in powdered sugar. Vanilla meringues supreme, moist little curls of chestnut puree peeping out. Frangipanes.” ( p. 194 of Written in Blood by Caroline Graham)

Poor Inspector Barnaby. I can imagine just how miserable he must have felt looking at this display, especially when he had toast with low-fat faux butter for breakfast. Barnaby is not extraordinarily eccentric, or charming, but he is clearly intelligent, not unkind, and has a certain appeal that is absolutely necessary for the (Inspector Barnaby) series to survive. He shares an amusing dynamic with his Deputy, Sergeant Gavin Troy, again an essential chemistry.

The setting is a village, Midsomer Worthy, and concerns its Writing Circle. This group of wannabe writers meet once a month at host Gerald Hadleigh’s place. This month, they have a celebrity guest, writer Max Jennings. Gerald, who we gather has some unpleasant association with Max in the past, is none too eager about the visit and asks Writing Circle member Rex to not leave him alone with Max. However, Max tricks the rest of the group into leaving and traps Gerald and himself alone in the former’s house. The next morning, Gerald is found dead.

Author, Catherine Graham, certainly succeeds in creating a compelling mystery – Gerald’s past is an enigma, the members of the writing circle are reminiscent of characters in Miss Marple mysteries (perhaps because the setting is so similar), the relationships are complex. There is oppression, unrequited love, loneliness, class consciousness and far too many secrets, far too many themes. The solution to the puzzle, though ingenious, seems a stretch and ‘over coincidental’.

Many of the whodunits I recently read have been impressively satisfying for about the first three-quarters of the book. They’ve been so good, that they were bad – they dragged me into ‘the great oblivion of the good mystery’, the kind that is responsible for unwashed laundry, undone dishes, missed gym appointments, staying up late, overeating or under eating, and a general state of pleasurable obliviousness. And then, the moment I’ve been waiting for arrives: the who, the how, the why and the when. And leaves me profoundly dissatisfied.

What makes a mystery great? Good writing? Great characters? The ability to create this great oblivion? How vital is the denouement? Can brilliant characterizations (as in Barbara Vine mysteries such as The Chimney-sweeper’s Boy and A Fatal Inversion) make up for conclusions that somehow fail to deliver? One mystery, which in my opinion, has a splendid denouement, is Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, where everything falls perfectly into place at the end, all the little pieces, and life makes sense.

And the search continues, for great plot lines, and satisfying finales.


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