The Fifth Rapunzel

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

B. M. Gill’s Inspector Maybridge is back in this excellently written novel involving serial murders in a small town outside London. The story focuses on young Simon Bradshaw, orphaned when his parents are killed in an auto accident while on vacation. His father had been a pathologist whose testimony had apparently solved the murders of a series of prostitutes (dubbed “Rapunzels” because of their long hair). Now the confused youth is pursued by two women, one primarily interested in becoming Simon’s wife and the other wishing to investigate the doctor’s life to find his mistress, who has vanished. During the inquiry, the girl courting Simon for his inheritance also disappears, putting Simon in a compromising position.

To discover the truth about the missing women, Maybridge must investigate the ambiguous deceased doctor and look back in to the Rapunzel cases. The story is rich in character development, as the individuals who people the village (such as the police detective, the vicar, the housewives, and the doctor-owner of an unconventional mental hospital) are not stereotypes but are complex and persuasive. Even the most apparently insignificant characters are developed deftly and economically. Gill’s work is reminiscent of P. D. James’s and Ruth Rendell’s with its emphasis on character and motive. Simon especially is a subtle and believable person whose confusion at his bereavement and whose subsequent discovery of sex are as interesting as the crime/detection element of this absorbing novel.