Monday, April 1, 2019

J.M. Gregson, Murder at the Nineteenth

J.M. Gregson, Murder at the Nineteenth
Original publication William Collins Sons &Co., LTD, 1989
© 1989 J.M. Gregson
ebook publication Endeavour Media LTD., 2018

In the first of nearly 30 books (the most recent is dated 2016) in the series featuring Superintendent John Lambert and Detective Inspector Bert Hook (policemen in an English town/city), the Chairman of the local golf club (James Sheperd) is found murdered in his (locked) office by Lambert.  (Shepherd had called Lambert, asking him to come to the club at about 10 PM, suggesting he had something very serious to discuss.)  The weapon is a large knife originally from the Middle East.  Shepherd lalo had a slightly earlier committee meeting; five of the more prominent members of the club, four of whom chaired a club committee (the fifth was the club’s secretary), were the attendees.

It soon becomes pretty clear that Lambert has five suspects—the attendees of that evening’s meeting.  And none of them have particularly good alibis for the crucial time.

I don’t recall what induced me to buy this book, but I’m always on the lookout for a god series, and the length of this one seemed to suggest that if has some promise.  I will say that the setting was nicely handled, although I don’t think that the actual investigation would stand much scrutiny in comparison with actual investigative practices in England.  In fact I doubt that Lambert would be allowed to conduct the investigation—he’s a member of the golf club and in fact has a role in its administration; he is close to, if not intimate with, all the suspects.  And there’s a specific thing about the writing…

The book, in print, would, I think, run about 200 pages.  But the story was really not complex enough to support the length.  Gregson fills a lot of pages with what can only be called interior monologues (somewhat odd, actually, as the story is written in the third person).  These do not add much, in my opinion, to the story.  My best guess is that, absent those digressions and diversions, we’d have a book of maybe 124-140 pages, too long to be a novella, but too short to be a novel (or at  best a very short novel). 

And the conclusion seemed to me to be both ad hoc and fairly obvious.  The evidence, such as it was, seemed thin.  But the author’s attitude toward the killer was, throughout, much less generous than his depictions of the other potential suspects.  So the ending fell a bit flat.  This was not, by any stretch, a bad book, and I might give a later entry a try (many of them appear also to involve golf).  But, at least for now, these are not on my must-read list.

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