Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War. I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)
The TV series Foyle’s War and the WW2 coming-of-age movie Hope and Glory both illustrate the concept that even in the midst of the Blitz, everyday life goes on––and that can include non-war-related disasters and crimes. In The Language of the Dead, Stephen Kelly uses that concept as a backdrop to his 1940 village murder mystery.
Detective Chief Inspector Lamb is called to the Hampshire village of Quimby to investigate when old Will Blackwell is found murdered, apparently in a ritualistic way traditionally used to kill witches. Blackwell was a loner, long rumored to be a witch, but Lamb and colleagues, Peter Wallace and Harry Rivers, have other, more prosaic, avenues to explore to explain Blackwell’s murder before they think about the supernatural.
Wallace is a good detective, but Lamb worries about his drinking. Rivers is new to the squad and an uncomfortable addition, because he holds Lamb responsible for the death in battle in World War I of a childhood friend who was in the same unit with Rivers, under Lamb’s command.
Lamb’s 18-year-old daughter, Vera, is working in Quimby as an Air Raid Warden, and Lamb is glad to have the chance to see her. During the investigation, we learn more about the personal lives of David Wallace and Vera Lamb, each of whom is entangled in a troubled love affair.
More murders take place in Quimby, Lamb and Rivers clash over the current investigations and their Great War history, other strange happenings in Quimby are hinted at, and the personal lives of some characters take turns for the worse.
The murders are solved in a bit of rush, and mostly through lengthy exposition rather than clues coming together in a way that allows the reader to solve the puzzle. Some of the plot lines that I expected to tie in to the murders never do, which made me wonder what their point was.
Though the book is set in England, you’ll spot pretty quickly that the author is an American, for example by references to candy and sweaters, where an English author would say sweets and jumpers. I noticed those slips, but they didn’t particularly bother me. At the same time, I can’t say I thought Kelly managed to convey a strong sense of the Hampshire village or wartime England. It appears that this is the first in a series, but this book doesn’t make me interested in a return.