My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I found this one in a library sale. It was a surprisingly slim volume (about 250 pages) and it’s by the author of Dalziel and Pascoe. I do love them, though occasionally those books ramble on a bit. I figured with a shorter book that wouldn’t be a problem so I look private eye Joe Sixsmith home with me. If I had read the blurb before reading the book, I would have seen this was the fourth book in the series (not really an issue here) and that Joe was Black. You don’t learn that until a hundred pages in. It’s like, huh? He’s Black? Not that it matters one whit, mind you. I just struck me then that we’ve gone a hundred pages without a single description of our protagonist and it’ll be nearly fifty more before we learn he’s short and balding too.
Joe getting involved in anything is very coincidental this time. He, along with his formidable aunt and his sort of girlfriend, a nurse called Beryl, are on a church bus driven by his rather dodgy friend, Merv, on their way to an eisteddfod in Caerlindys, Wales. It’s a vocal challenge that they quickly learn isn’t supported by everyone who didn’t like the idea of inviting foreigners (and worse, the English like Joe and company). But before they can get there, they are lost in the wilds of Wales (and having been in some of the rural parts of Wales which were beautiful, I can say it would be easy to get lost there) and they happen across a cottage on fire and there’s a woman inside.
Joe rescues her, though she is burnt. He suffers smoke inhalation, taking him out of the singing, and a lot of deep bruising and muscle complaints as he jumps with her from the second story. The young lady is in a coma and no one knows who she is as Joe finds out once they’re ensconced in the school that’s hosting the eisteddfod. The Lewises run the school, the snobbish head master, his wife and his pale disaffected son, Wain. Joe quickly meets Williams, the caretaker and Bronwen, his sexually teasing young daughter.
In the school’s sick bay, Joe is intrigued by some of the names scratched into the lockers ‘Loomis – sights, Sillcroft-sadness.’ He wondered about those ailments and before long he’s pulled this way and that as he meets the Haggards, the rich English couple who own the burnt cottage and both hire him unaware the other has, Fran the Man Haggard to find out who the woman was, Frannie his wife to see if the girl was her husband’s mistress. Even Wain Lewis throws money at Joe to find out who that girl is, money Joe suspects comes from dealing drugs after finding some in the boy’s bathroom.
As Joe mostly just talks to people, debating on which if any client he will really serve, he learns to avoid the detective Ursell and learns there is a group of corrupt politicians and businessmen running things in Caerlindys. He is also taken to a bar and witnesses some anti-English talk (I couldn’t figure out at the time why they would have talked in front of him but later, finding out he was Black, I assume they figure he has a minority’s dislike of the establishment) and Joe has to wonder if they are the ones trying to sabotage the eisteddfod or if they are the ones who burnt the cottage knowing it was owned by the English. As he goes on, he learns of a gay teacher who was let go from the school and scandal of a sexual nature that may or may not have happened at the school. When he finds hidden cameras in the school, things go from bad to worse.
I liked this a lot. I wasn’t too keen on Beryl in this mostly because she didn’t feel very fleshed out (to be fair maybe she is in the first three books and I’m expected to know her). I like Joe. He’s honest and nice if a bit flawed. The mystery is well laid out and interesting. I’ll be looking to find more of Joe.
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