This is the ninth in the series about the genial but sharp-eyed detective, George Gently, and just in case anyone out there is paying attention, yes, I did miss out number eight. OK, so I got confused, alright? There are forty-something in the series, so this is a problem that's only likely to get worse. One thing that's interesting about reading the whole sequence in order (well, more or less) is the subtle but noticeable change in approach. In the early books, Gently sucked peppermint creams constantly, ate vast meals (described in some detail) and merely ambled through the landscape, populated with a variety of dialect-speaking hicks, as clues and suspects fell at his feet. Book by book, however, the eccentricities have fallen away and what remains is much more of a conventional police procedural, albeit still fossilised in post-war Britain.
A large part of the enjoyment of these stories is the period setting, and although there are fewer details than previously, this is still a world of diggings and cheery landladies, three course lunches and a well-delineated class system. I find it curious that anyone with pretensions to grandeur feels quite at liberty to be obstructive and downright rude to the police. There is still the uneasy air of rebuilding after the war, not simply of bombed out houses, but of people too. The loss of many records in council offices, churches and the like means that anyone who wants to can simply vanish and reinvent themselves, with no one able to check their history, and this makes an interesting plot point here.
This is perhaps the best of the series so far. The premise is that an unsuccessful pre-war attempt to climb Mount Everest, which resulted in the death of one climber, comes back to haunt the participants when the supposedly dead man turns up again, plaintively searching for his wife. There's an immediate outbreak of disbelief, a very public spat with another expedition member, followed by lawsuits, whereupon the other climber falls to his death (a slightly less dramatic death, on Snowdon). Gently potters about London and Wales, in his relaxed way, uncovering the details, and if the suspects line up rather too easily and the big reveal is blindingly obvious, the tale is none the worse for that. A mildly entertaining, if not particularly challenging, little mystery. Three stars.