This is the fourth of a very long series featuring the genial but persistent detective, George Gently. As the terrible pun of the title suggests, this episode sees Our Hero staying with the great and the good (or at least the rich and titled) over Christmas, where the festivities are inevitably interrupted by a murder. The setting, a large country house of some antiquity, gives the book the atmosphere of Agatha Christie fanfic. I usually enjoy the period details of these books, written in the fifties, but this is ground that has been covered a thousand times before - the creepy attics and winding stairs, the secret passages, billiard rooms and libraries, the butler and housemaids, the dressing for dinner and stuffy formality. There are some details of the meals which would interest foodies, but otherwise I found it a little ordinary.
The characters never quite seem to work in these books. Gently himself is almost too self-effacing, allowing others to take the lead in the investigation and then mildly asking the one crucial question that reveals the significant little detail. But this is better, perhaps, than the over-the-top buffoonery of his superior, who blusters and expostulates his way through the interrogations, completely confident in the innocence of the aristocracy and insistently looking for the murderer amongst the obviously less trustworthy lower classes. Then there is the lady of the house, who lies outright to the police and, when pressed, has hysterics or falls into a swoon at Gently's feet. Did women ever fall into swoons under stress? Perhaps Victorians struggling for breath in their tightly-laced stays, but certainly not normal, healthy women in the more accommodating fashions of the nineteen fifties.
The ending was slightly melodramatic, but not a huge surprise, on the whole. The murderer was apprehended, justice was done and so on and so forth, according to the conventions of such books, and no tricks were employed by the author to deceive the diligent reader keeping track of the likely suspects, so a satisfactory conclusion all round. The series isn’t great literature, and doesn’t compare with Agatha Christie, but this is a pleasant, undemanding read with an interesting backdrop of upper class and upper middle class life at the time. Three stars.