Lamed by polio, Dr. Theo Sinclair leads a quiet, academic existence as a lecturer in history at a small university. The time is the mid-1960’s, and Sinclair has long repressed circumstances surrounding a wartime murder trial during which he figured as a nine-year-old witness.
The case became a famous English crime, notorious first through the discovery of a human skull long immersed in a hogshead of cider, then because of the forensic skills employed to identify the victim and the manner of his death. At the time of the murder, Sinclair had been a young London evacuee, relocated for safety to the rural apple farm which manufactured the tainted cider. Because the boy witnessed events taking place just before the violence, he had figured as a principal witness for the prosecution. His testimony led to the conviction of Duke Donovan, an American serviceman stationed nearby, and Sinclair’s experience had been unusually emotional because his affection for the soldier was especially strong.
Now grown, Donovan’s daughter Alice journeys to England from the United States, locates Sinclair, and involves him in her efforts to probe what actually happened. Working sometimes together, sometimes at furious odds, the pair interview surviving principals in the case, reexamine the death site, and try to revive and rethink Sinclair’s boyhood memories. Their efforts stir up long-buried secrets and anxieties. Another murder follows, and both Alice and Sinclair find themselves in danger.
Peter Lovesey (who also writes under the pseudonym Peter Lear) is an English crime novelist best known for his series featuring Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackery. ROUGH CIDER demonstrates careful plotting and a protagonist whose personal character is refreshingly coarse-edged and irascible.