Year of publication: 1945
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: A military hospital in rural Kent, England; World War 2
An old man dies on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation to fix a broken bone, and Inspector Cockrill of the Kent police is called in to investigate what most people are sure will turn out to be an unfortunate accident or an unexplained but not malicious death. But then one of the nurses who attended the operation claims that she knows it was murder and that she has proof and knows who the killer is. She is subsequently murdered, and now everyone is convinced the first death was also a murder. Cockrill is sure he knows both the who and the why, but he still needs to find out how, and obtain solid evidence for the identity of the killer.
This story has a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric background: a rural military hospital during WW2, with bombs often falling nearby. The cast of suspects is quite small, only six people, but every one of them is made out to be likeable in their own way, and none seems to have a strong motive. Cockrill, the detective, is not doing much detecting. Instead, while he is presumably seeking evidence and connecting the dots of the case, the suspects speculate about the murder and discuss between themselves information about their alibis or non-alibis, some of which is unknown to Cockrill, who solves the case anyway, even though he has to use psychological warfare to squeeze a confession out of the quite unexpected killer, not having any physical evidence. Suspicion is cleverly deflected at every turn from the real killer, even at the climax which has an unexpected twist. The writing is deft, the characters (with the exception of Cockrill) memorable and interesting, and the story has many twists and turns and a number of red herrings. Unfortunately it also has the ending I don’t like and loses a half-point for that.
Rating: An atmospheric and thrilling puzzle plot murder mystery. 3 1/2 stars.
Books left in challenge: 105
I am definitely going to try to find more books by this author.