Book number two in the Hill and Lloyd series was just as enjoyable as I hoped with a good honest proper mystery, complete with a limited number of suspects and a solid investigation. As much as I am a fan of the newer types of crime fiction there is something incredibly appealing about a straightforward murder mystery, told in a sequential timeline with a single (reliable) narrator.
Redemption is set in the Christmas period with snow on the ground, which was credible in 1988 when this book was first published, and in the Vicar’s home. George Wheeler, said Vicar, has a lack of faith which surely is a pre-requisite of the job, is ably supported with the lack of faith firmly disguised and ignored by his wife, Marian. They are both understandably distressed when their young daughter (a mere twenty-one) is visited by her husband in the small village outside Stansfield. Joanne, has been previously been beaten by Graham Elstow and returned to the bosom of her family after a particularly serious incident, and then on Christmas Eve night, he is found beaten to death in bed at the Vicarage. Acting Chief Inspector Lloyd (it seems Jill McGown went with her former Latin teacher, Colin Dexter’s naming preference for the chief protagonist and declined to give him a first name until much later in the series) and Sergeant Judy Hill are hopeful that this is going to be a case they can swiftly solve, after all surely young Joanne has retaliated with the handy murder weapon of a poker? It’s not to be, because it isn’t long before the alibis for the entire household come rolling in and the occupants insist that he must have been attacked by an intruder.
It was the skilful misdirection employed throughout this novel that really had me gripped. There are some convoluted relationships to dazzle the reader, including that of the young playgroup attendee Eleanor Langton who lives in the castle grounds as a single mother while working as an archivist. She has caught the Vicar’s eye and he is having very unholy thoughts about her. For Lloyd and Hill things are no less complex as there are some confessions, time lines which simply don’t fit with the time of death and locked doors that are usually left open, as I presume was the habit in a small village in the 1980s. Fortunately the reader doesn’t need to spare any sympathy for the wife-beating victim all of which ensures this book falls into the gentler half of crime fiction but far away from the cosy variety. I will grant you that we don’t get too far beneath the surface of the characters in the way more modern crime fiction tends to, but what is lacking here is made up for with a story with a puzzle that is told in a mere 246 pages.
Of course Christmas is a great setting for a murder mystery because you have all the angst and families, which often amount to one and the same thing, competing with the forced merriment. Jill McGown uses this aspect to breathe a contemporary feel into her mystery which has tendrils reaching back to the Golden Era. Lloyd and Hill are having an affair the beginnings of which stretch back through time but with Judy Hill moving back to the area, it has reignited, and we all know with those families hanging around that for those involved, Christmas is a tricky time to conduct any secret assignations. There have been strenuous efforts made by the author to remove the sordidness from this relationship with Judy’s marriage (almost) being one of convenience and the way both professionals keep their two worlds separate, meaning that the investigation isn’t sullied by bedroom antics.
All of this made for a very satisfying read, my first of the Mount TBR challenge which may not be succeeding in actually reducing the TBR as I now want the next book in the series which fortunately for me have been republished by Bello. Redemption has since been released by Pan as part of their Christmas series under the title Murder at the Old Vicarage.
Lloyd and Hill Series
A Perfect Match (1983)
Redemption (aka Murder At the Old Vicarage) (1988)
Death of a Dancer (aka Gone to Her Death) (1989)
The Murders of Mrs Austin And Mrs Beale (1991)
The Other Woman (1992)
Murder… Now And Then (1993)
A Shred of Evidence (1995)
Verdict Unsafe (1997)
Picture of Innocence (1998)
Plots And Errors (1999)
Scene of Crime (2001)
Births, Deaths and Marriages (aka Death in the Family) (2002)
Unlucky for Some (2004)