This is the sixth in a very long series of murder mysteries featuring the middle aged Inspector George Gently, all written in the fifties and sixties. This one is back by the seaside, in a small and not very interesting village baking in a heatwave (cue lots of comments along the lines of 'what a scorcher' and frying eggs on the pavement). A beautiful young woman visitor is found murdered on the beach beside the fishing boats. The locals can make nothing of it, and Gently is summoned from Scotland Yard to solve the case.
Books of this type depend on one of three factors to give them legs. Either the mystery itself is ingenious, or the setting is evocative, or the detective is interesting enough to carry the story. The mystery here is neither clever nor (frankly) very interesting. The best murder mysteries give the reader enough information to work out the solution for themselves, but here there are three obvious suspects with motives yet the identity of the perpetrator and the actual motive are such that they can't really be deduced. There were one or two aspects that might be guessed at, but that's it.
Nor is the setting interesting. The author has already dealt with a seaside holiday setting in an earlier book ('Gently By The Shore') and this adds nothing new. The author describes the heatwave and the inevitable thunderstorm which follows in unconvincing purple prose. And the detective has become almost invisible, doing very little here except stand around while clues and information materialise in front of him. He does very little actual investigation, interviewing the obvious suspects while relying on 'intuition' to divine the truth of the matter. But at least he has stopped chewing peppermint creams, his only quirk now being to play with a pipe from time to time.
This series has never been very compelling. The plots are weak, the characterisation unconvincing and the writing might best be described as workmanlike. For me the charm has always been in the period details of post-war British life - the food, the clothing, the social distinctions and attitudes and so on. Sadly there is very little here of interest - some snippets of clothing, a reference to florins and a small coastal village which still has an active fishing trade. The only meal mentioned is salad and trifle, although a great deal of ice cream is consumed. Without the historical veneer, the story is exposed as a flimsy and insubstantial affair, with Gently inexplicably fascinated by one character while ignoring other possible leads, doing very little detective work until the solution is simply presented to him. I assume this is meant to be his unique characteristic as a detective, to simply stand and watch while the mystery unfolds itself before his eyes, but it really isn't a convincing technique. Two stars.