Friday, 7 September 2001
Ann Granger: Shades of Murder (2000)
Review number: 938
Many fictional detectives are at some point given a murder from the past to solve. Shades of Murder isn't like any of these; it's about how a hundred year old murder case still casts shadows into the present, bringing death once again.
Bamford, the fictional market town which is the location of Granger's Mitchell and Markby series, was also the scene of one of the notorious Victorian poisonings. William Oakley's wife seemed to have died an accidental death from fire, but her body was exhumed after a sacked servant accused him of murder. Discovery of arsenic in the body meant that he stood trial, but he was acquitted; unable to face the small town neighbours who still believed him guilty, he disappeared and no one knew what had become of him.
Moving to the present day, his last remaining descendants, two women in their eighties, are beginning to realise that they are going to have to sell the Oakley home, a Victorian Gothic house named Fourways, and move into a more practical flat that they can afford to keep up. At that moment, a young man arrives, claiming to be their cousin, descendant of a second William Oakley marriage in Poland, and demanding a share in the property. Nobody likes the way he puts pressure on the old women - but is that a motive for killing him with the now extremely unusual method of arsenical poisoning?
Because Alan Markby is already involved with the Oakleys before Jan's death, he is taken off the investigation while, to his resentful surprise, Scotland Yard are called in. In almost all police detective stories, the point of view is that of the investigator called in rather than the locals, and Granger milks her unusual device for comic as well as dramatic effect.
When I bought this novel, the lady in the bookshop - also a Granger fan - said that she had heard that this would be the last Mitchell and Markby story. I hope not - it has been a most enjoyable series of mysteries.