Written by Julius Falconer
2013, Pneuma Springs Publishing (UK); 187 pages
A police investigation into the violent death of a part-time cathedral verger stalls for lack of incriminating evidence. However, three people have a close interest in clearing the matter up where the police have failed: the dead man's sister, anxious to see justice done, and two of the police suspects, both released without charge but keen to clear their names.
Striking out on their own, each approaches the murder from a different perspective: book-trafficking on the black market; revenge by an extremist religious organisation for the dead man's betrayal of them; and retaliation in a case of blackmail. The police continue to maintain that the murder was committed out of sexual anger, even though they have no proof apart from the circumstances of the verger's death.
Eventually DI Moat and his assistant DS Stockwell, from the North Yorkshire Force, take a hand. Moat pays his predecessors in the investigation, both professional and amateur, the compliment of taking their findings seriously - but comes up with an idea of his own.
This is a very short book, and could most likely be read at one sitting. However, it took me more than a week to get through it, and of course that's a sign that I just wasn't connecting with it -- never did.
So many things bothered me about this book, it's hard even to begin to review it. The story was all over the place -- plot devices thrown at the reader with no apparent rhyme or reason. The characters were mostly stereotypes and tended to pop up out of nowhere, spouting various literary quotes and references and recommendations at an alarming pace. Now I realize there was a certain literary aspect involved -- several of the characters were involved in black-market book sales. Even so, it was a bit of shock to hear references to Diderot and quotes from The Duchess of Malfi. I don't know about you, but Diderot doesn't come up in my day-to-day conversations very much.
Falconer has three different characters or groups of characters investigating the crime, at the same time though separately. Each investigation went off in a different direction and seemed to lead nowhere, so that by the time the police showed up toward the end of the novel, I was actually pretty bored with the whole business.
Worst of all, the ending wasn't just a surprise -- it was a smack in the face, with yet another new character (or two?) showing up out of the blue. In a way, the ending makes the entire book feel like one big "red herring." It also made me think that maybe I just hadn't read carefully enough and missed something important along the way; but I was so frustrated by then, there was no way I could contemplate any rereading to figure out where I lost track. Definitely not a book I'd recommend; but I understand Julius Falconer has published quite a few books and has a devoted following of readers (this is at least the third book to feature Inspector Walter Moat), so maybe A Fearful Madness is just a poor example of his work.
Note: I received my copy of this book from the publisher, free of charge, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received.