This is the seventh of the series about the genial pipe-smoking George Gently, now promoted to Superintendent, and chafing rather at his desk-bound life. The author is getting into his stride now, and many of the rather dated quirks which enlivened the earlier books have been dropped - no more peppermint creams, for instance, and the investigation is much more conventional - Gently visits various suspects, asks them questions and mulls over the answers. He even philosophises over his approach, describing it as more art than science. There are still meals, fortunately; I do enjoy Gently’s hearty meals. Grapefruit, followed by liver and bacon for breakfast, then toast and marmalade. Lunch is naturally a multi-course affair - soup, steak, new potatoes and peas, followed by apple turnover and 'custard sauce'. Not quite as vintage as the brown Windsor soup of a previous book, but still entertainingly large.
The other vintage aspect of these books (these early ones were written in the mid to late fifties) is the attitude to women. Female characters are never regarded as being worthy of attention. They may have evidence to impart, like Dolly the barmaid (addressed simply as 'Miss'), or they may be right in the middle of the action, like the girlfriend (addressed respectfully as 'Miss Butters' because her father is someone of importance; the class system is alive and well), but they are otherwise ignored. One woman who takes a car and drives off in it causes a tremor of alarm in the policemen: you mean she was on her own, they cry plaintively. A woman who dislikes her husband is inevitably thought to be a lesbian (even though there's absolutely no evidence of it). Often the women are portrayed as being on the verge of hysteria. The girlfriend would be a prime suspect in any rational story of this type, but it never occurs to anyone to investigate that angle. A woman of that era could probably get away with literal murder because no one would imagine her capable of it.
The actual perpetrator of the crime is not terribly surprising, although there's a lot of obfuscation along the way to avoid revealing the identity too soon. Gently, of course, guesses it early on and then, Poirot-like, spends time circling around in a slightly underhand sort of way. I have to say, though, that the murderer's motivation was not terribly convincing. And for all the comments about how clever he was, it always seems to me to be fairly stupid rushing round after the crime trying to pin it on other people. Nevertheless, this was one of the better books of this series. The attempts at dialect have almost entirely gone (not quite, sadly), the investigation depends less on lucky breaks than before and Gently himself is now a much more believable character. Three stars.