The fifth in the long series of George Gently detective novels, there are no radical departures here. A murder is committed in a small town mill, the local plods can make nothing of it and send for help. Gently arrives and in his quiet, understated style uncovers all the hidden secrets and solves the murder. As always, the charm is in the portrayal of English post-war life, captured as effortlessly as clicking a camera shutter. This was published in 1958, and the first few pages alone reveal a different world: hot cross buns made only for Good Friday, for instance, instead of appearing in the shops shortly after the Christmas decorations come down, and a stag party which is an annual affair and has nothing to do with weddings, being simply a male-only excuse to get plastered (so some similarities to the modern do, obviously).
Food is a big part of Gently’s daily life, and although the peppermint creams, the signature of the earlier books, rate only a single mention here, there are still plenty of edibles about. Gently likes a proper breakfast, with bacon, egg and kidney. Lunch might be onion soup, followed by ‘a very good sole with sauce tartare’, then apple charlotte. And cheese, of course. Another day it might be beefsteak pudding, followed by treacle tart and custard, with hot rum beforehand and a liqueur and cigar afterwards. A picnic lunch is cold chicken and salad, apple turnover, biscuits, cheese and fruit, and four thermoses of coffee. Good, solid working lunches, these. And given that the plot centres around a mill and the attached bakery, there are cakes and pastries abounding, too.
In between these energy-sapping meals, Gently sits about watching the likely suspects until their concocted stories quietly unravel. This is possibly the best of these books so far, since none of the revelations depend on Gently luckily finding himself in just the right place at the right time. He also makes a few mistakes in his investigations, which makes him seem much more humanly fallible. The villain turns out to be a very satisfying and plausible possibility, the local plods, while confident the murderer can’t possibly be a local man, are much more realistic in their protestations, and there are signs of depth in some of the minor characters, too. And thank goodness, there are no painful transcriptions of local dialect to contend with. This is not quite four stars, but it’s certainly a very good three stars.