Four years on from the end of the Great War and former Royal Flying Corps pilot and current crime writer Jack Haldean is visiting the local village fête. He is horrified to bump into Jeremy Boscombe, a former fellow pilot and all-round unpleasant chap. Boscombe had a habit of finding out dirt on people and utilising it for his profit – and it seems that he has some information on one of Jack’s friends.
That immediate problem is put to one side when Boscombe is shot dead while alone in the fortune-teller’s tent and his associate is killed in the local pub. It seems that a secret from the Battle of the Somme – the story of a traitor – is coming back to haunt some of Jack’s friends. And it’s a secret that someone is going to kill to keep. A secret that will take Jack back to the battlefield to find the truth.
OK, probably the last time I’ll mention the Bodies From The Library conference. Probably. Anyway, Dolores Gordon-Smith gave a great talk about Freeman Wills Crofts and, because of that, I bought this one, Dolores’ first Jack Haldean novel. Yes, I probably should have bought a Freeman Wills Croft book, but this seemed more interesting.
Well, I can’t give a comparison with Croft, but this is certainly a fun read. Definitely written with one eye on the Golden Age style, it’s a mystery that is both complex and deceptively simple – one simple unasked question would have resolved everything but it’s the sort of question that could easily be overlooked (and probably will be by the reader).
Haldean is a straightforward hero – there’s a lovely section early on where he’s trying to work out a way to get involved officially with the investigation without actually asking the police. He’s also involved on a personal level as the evidence points towards someone he cares about, he becomes determined to clear her despite no real evidence.
The final sequence is very tight and claustrophobic and the overall tale is very well-plotted. It does drag a little in the middle section – Dolores did tell me at the conference that her more recent books were shorter, so I wonder if that was an admission of this fact – but once it kicks off again, it’s a riveting read. It’s Highly Recommended and I’ll be returning to the series very soon indeed.
And yes, the accent on fête on that cover is wrong. Well spotted.