Felony & Mayhem Press, 2005; 252 pages
First published 1987
Money had been behind many a killing. Money and sex. Interlocked. An eternal ampersand. And a motive for murder since murder began. (pp.153-154)
When elderly spinster Emily Simpson went orchid-hunting in the woods near her home in the tranquil English village of Badger's Drift, she never expected to stumble upon a sight that would result in her abrupt demise. At first no one believes Emily's death is anything but an unfortunate accident – a woman getting on in years and living alone suffers a fall and is unable to call for help in time. But Emily's old friend and neighbor (and fellow orchid hunter) Miss Lucy Bellringer is suspicious, and calls on Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby to investigate. At first unconvinced that anything "untoward" has happened, Barnaby nevertheless promises Miss Bellringer to look into her friend's death. And as he noses around, aided by his young partner Sergeant Gavin Troy, Barnaby begins to realize there's something sinister at work in Badger's Drift, involving old rivalries and scandals and secrets. And then there's a second death – this one much more horrific than the first, and most definitely murder – and Barnaby and Troy must race to find the killer before more violence disrupts the once-peaceful little village.
I've had this book on my "Must Read" list for a couple of decades now. Don't know why it's taken me so long to get around to it, since I'd read a couple of the later novels in Graham's Barnaby series and loved both of them (love Midsomer Murders, too – the TV series based on the books). I was pleased to see that this one was just as entertaining and intriguing as all the later books – all the regulars in place, the plot just as interesting, the killings just as bizarre and unpredictable. It's whetted my appetite for even more Barnaby, and fortunately I've got several more to choose from.
********************Some favorite quotes:
- Barnaby spotted Wellington, a solid cat the colour of iron filings, with four white socks, on top of a grand piano. The name seemed apt. He had a face like an old boot, squashed in, tuckered and rumpled. He watched them restacking the books. He looked secretive and ironical. A cat who was biding his time. (p.17)
- [Barnaby] thought how impossible it was for a gardener to attempt to conceal his personality. Telling one's dreams could hardly be more revelatory. Unsophisticated harmony for Miss Simpson; tangled exuberance for Miss Bellringer;...He looked at the showy shrubs, the billiard-table-baize lawn, the pond with a concrete cherub peeing mechanically on a plastic lily. Here was ostentatious vulgarity, literally in full bloom. (p.164)
- Barnaby...never underestimated the tremendous satisfaction that knowing all a neighbour's business gave some people. A passionate interest in everyone else's affairs seemed to him a very human characteristic hardly reprehensible enough to be called a failing, let alone a sin. If he himself wasn't endlessly concerned with other people's behaviour, he wouldn't be doing the job he was. (p.166)