First Wife, Twice Removed

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The detectives of the Thames Valley police department in this British police procedural pay little attention to the sudden death of Penny Winter, a divorcee with two small daughters. She evidently ate tainted food, was very ill, fainted, and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck. The police, led by Detective Superintendent Mike Yeadings and Detective Inspector Angus Mott, are bothered only by their inability to locate Ron Gardner, Penny Winter’s ex-husband, but they have no reason to suspect foul play.

Angus Mott takes a weekend off at a resort with his fiancee, the barrister Paula Musto, and is dismayed to find that for professional reasons she wants to postpone their planned marriage. To punish her, he flirts briefly with a beautiful Dutchwoman at the resort, Anneke Vroom, although nothing significant happens between the two. A few days later, Mott is called in when the body of a pregnant woman is found in a small cabinet in a van belonging to two Dutch antique dealers. Mott recognizes the body as that of Anneke Vroom.

Police attention focuses on the man who had introduced Anneke to Mott and Paula. He had given his name as Arnold Coleman, an insurance investigator, but that proves to have been a lie. Increasingly intense investigation leads to a minor con man named Ron Gardner, presently living with a fortyish woman. The police soon realize that Ron Gardner is also the ex-husband of Penny Winter, and suspicion that he was involved in both deaths becomes very strong.

Meanwhile, Mott has been sent to the Netherlands to investigate Anneke Vroom’s background and to try to find the antiques dealers. With the help of a Dutch policeman named De Vries, he locates the father of Anneke’s unborn child, a hospital technician named Johan Groeneveld, and an Indonesian named Ari who owns a restaurant where Anneke had worked. Only after more deaths is the dual investigation concluded.

FIRST WIFE, TWICE REMOVED, eighth in a series, provides some information on the private lives of the continuing police characters, especially Yeadings and Mott, but most attention is on the complex plot, in which a number of apparent criminals turn out to be innocent of the specific crimes under investigation. This is a solid novel for devotees of the traditional British mystery.