17 November 2010

The Complete Steel by Catherine Aird

Genre: Police procedural
Year of publication: 1969
Series and no. : Chronicles of Calleshire, # 4
Setting & time: Calleshire (fictional place), England, contemporary/timeless

A naughty boy on an outing at a stately home makes a gruesome discovery: someone has murdered the estate archivist and stuffed him into a suit of armour. The Calleshire police, in the persons of Detective Chief Inspector Sloan and his assistant, Crosby the speed demon (who I think is still a constable in this book). It is soon revealed that the man had recently made a discovery that could be a threat to the cosy existence of the family who own the place, but is that really why he was murdered?

I have written before of the timeless quality of Aird’s Calleshire books, which seem to exist in a kind of mid-to-late 20th century time vacuum. The last Calleshire book I read, Little Knell (which I didn’t review) was an exception of sorts, mainly because of its theme, which was hard drugs, but this, one of the early books, is one of the timeless ones.

The upper-class characters are the types you meet on the pages of books by Agatha Christie and especially Georgette Heyer’s mysteries, with the exception of two, who seem to have been cut from the same cloth as the sisters from Gormenghast, and I really wish they had played a bigger part in the story because they were great.

Sloan and Crosby are their old selves, Sloan a slightly harried but generally calm and thoughtful little man, and Crosby mad for driving. The writing is more colourful than what I remarked on in my previous review of Aird’s books, and the story has some clever twists and turns and red herrings, and bravo! Aird has managed to break one of The Rules without enraging the reader. This is the best of Aird’s books I have read so far, and I love the title, which is a quotation from Hamlet. 4 stars.

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