With thanks to the author for the review copy.
Miss Christie Regrets is the second book in the Hampshire Murders series. In the first book Death in Profile – we were introduced to the police officers at Hamstead police station, they include DCI Tom Allen (very much an old-style copper), Simon Collison, now a superintendent, Inspector Bob Metcalf, and D S Karen Willis. In the previous book, we learned that Collison is a fan of Golden Age crime fiction, as is Peter Collins, Karen Willis’ former boyfriend who worked as a profiler on that previous case. The complicated lives and loves of the police team continue to run through the story of the latest murder case that they become embroiled in.
This series continues its affectionate nod to the world of Golden Age fiction, both in the occasional references to it made by the characters, and more importantly in the way the characters speak to each other, behave and the refreshing lack of bad language and gory details.
“A man sat with his back to the door, slumped forwards over a desk. A mass of congealing blood covered the top of his head and had run down the sides onto the desk. Some had gone further, dripping onto the floor. What looked like a police truncheon lay on the floor slightly to one side.”
That really is about as gruesome as it gets – and I, for one prefer it like that.
I loved the premise of this one – and it does work very well, it is cleverly plotted with everything tidied up satisfactorily in the end. Two murders separated by something approaching eighty years – couldn’t possibly be connected, could they? And if that isn’t tantalising enough; the Queen of crime herself, Agatha Christie – and the letters she left behind, become a key feature of the police investigation. As the case progresses Special Branch are even drawn into the affair – as secrets of national security are unearthed.
As the novel opens Karen Willis is on leave, still living with Peter, though they both know the relationship is over. They are attending an exhibition at Burgh House, in Hampstead, when a body is discovered on one of the floors above them. Howse; the man who has been killed was preparing exhibits for another exhibition about The Isokan, a block of flats nearby, where Agatha Christie among others, had lived for a short time. There were only a few people in Burgh house at the time of the murder – though the open door to the house has been left unattended and anyone could have walked in. Howse lived and worked in the building which was once his family home, as do the Baileys, who act as caretakers. It is revealed early on that Susan Bailey was having an affair with Howse, and her husband therefore, has reason to feel great resentment toward the victim. In the room, next to Howse’s, works Professor Hugh Raffen, he claims to have had little to do with Howse generally, although didn’t seem to like the man much at all.
Tom Allen, who Collison had replaced on the previous investigation, is made SIO of the case, and Karen Willis, returns from leave to help. Collison who has refused a promotion, is requesting the chance to head up another murder investigation, and is promised the next one to come along. Another investigation does come along, faster than anyone might have expected, but it turns out to be an historical investigation.
“The storage space contrived to feel both damp and dusty at the same time. A bare lamp hung unlit from the ceiling. An inspection light, presumably erected by the builders, blazed across the room casting stark shadows. Collison noticed that in some places not just the wallpaper but the plaster too had peeled off the wall.
‘That’s a cabin trunk,’ he said, looking at the piece of luggage. ‘Haven’t seen one for years, except in junk shops.’”
A body has been discovered by workmen, in a trunk behind a walled-up section of basement in the old Isokan building, about which Howse was preparing an exhibit. The coincidence is startling. Collison is put in charge of the investigation, though he quickly suspects there is a connection between his and DCI Allen’s case.
In the interests of honesty, I must admit to a couple of small reservations, nothing that spoiled my overall enjoyment though. For me there was just a little too much musing upon the physical attributes of woman police officers, and the effect of them upon their male counterparts. Thankfully however the women are allowed to be both attractive and highly competent. Despite the novel being a really good, quick and involving read I couldn’t help wonder if it wasn’t a bit long, personally I was less interested in the complex love triangle between Peter Collins, Bob Metcalf and Karen Willis – and one possible future storyline there makes me feel rather uncomfortable – though I am probably jumping the gun completely.
The characters are all really likeable and their stories which run through both this and the previous novel do an excellent job of involving the reader in not only the case but in the people whose job it is to solve it.
I was certainly not clever enough to guess the solution of this mystery which is pleasingly complex. The author’s own expert knowledge of police and legal procedure comes through, and lends an extra dimension of authenticity to the story.