Thursday, 28 January 1999

Caroline Graham: Faithful Unto Death (1996)

Faithful Unto Death coverEdition: Headline, 1997
Review number: 196

In her Cotswold-set mysteries, Caroline Graham has great fun parading casts of bizarre exaggerated eccentrics before the eyes of Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy (themselves stereotypical policemen) and her readers. Faithful Unto Death follows the formula pretty exactly, with a puzzle which is perhaps a little above the average level of difficulty.

When Alan Hutchinson's wife Simone goes missing, he at first does nothing about it, launching himself instead into a self-pitying sea of whisky. His neighbours eventually inform the police, but there is little they can do until Alan himself is found dead. Like almost all of Graham's stories, this one takes place in a tiny village entirely, it seems, populated by really strange people, and this includes the reclusive Hutchinsons.

Having seen the TV adaptation of this novel before reading it, I wasn't expecting it to be terribly good. The "cast of eccentrics" idea works rather better on the page than on the screen, where there is a danger that they merely seem rather exaggerated (though the TV listings magazine we get implies, in what is said about the adaptation of a different Graham novel, that the series is very popular in the US, and some viewers there think it reliably catalogues English village life; it is about as reliable as Buffy's portrayal of American high school life). The compression of the novel into a single two-hour programme meant that the plot was considerably simplified and the characters made rather more sketchy; attention was inevitably focused on the star part, Barnaby (who was also considerably softened to make him more attractive to viewers). The book is far better, though I did find myself occasionally wondering how much some of the characterisations are deliberate parody and how much poor writing.

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