Faithful Unto Death by Caroline Graham

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Faithful Unto Death

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set in the usually dull and conventional village of Fawcett Green, the story begins with an Agatha Christie-like situation: a dissatisfied young wife of no particular distinction, Simone Hollingsworth, goes missing, causing various colorful small-town characters to jump to conclusions and share them with each other and Chief Inspector Barnaby. At first her departure is treated lightly, but as time passes, it becomes clear that something is amiss.

The husband, Alan Hollingsworth, has been behaving very oddly, and at first suspicions drift this way. He is then found dead, however, by apparent suicide. As Barnaby investigates the tangled skein of rumors and events, he finds a set of lethal connections among the inhabitants of Fawcett Green, and not until another person dies does the surprising truth begin to emerge.

Caroline Graham is an unusually witty writer who characterizes deftly and provides acerbic images of small-town English life. Descriptions of bogus Tudor tourist traps and the foibles of middle-aged couples bring smiles and even laughter. Barnaby and his self-centered sidekick Sergeant Troy are delightful companions, and their interaction with rube local constable Perrot adds to the comedy. The story unfolds gently, in the tradition of the British rural mystery; there are no last-minute escapes or high-speed chases. The complex and startling conclusion, though, is more shocking than cozy, and catches up short the reader who is expecting an Agatha-Christie style conclusion of poetic justice.

Graham is an exciting addition to the tradition of the female British mystery writer, with more than a little poison in her pen.