Wednesday, 19 May 1999

Dorothy Simpson: Once Too Often (1998)

Edition: Little, Brown & Co, 1998
Review number: 253

Dorothy Simpson's Inspector Thanet novels are built around the contrast between Thanet's beloved family and the generally idyllic Kent background, and the violent murders which often have unpleasant origins (such as incest). Thanet is a policeman in the tradition of Marsh's Alleyn rather than Dexter's Morse, though all three characters share a devotion to justice as a concept.

From the family side of things, the main event is the rapidly approaching marriage of Thanet's daughter Bridget to the unsatisfactory (as Thanet sees it) Alexander, who has jilted her in the past - because, he says now, of a fear of commitment.

The frantic preparations for the wedding form the background to a classic murder mystery. When an ambulance responds to a normal 999 call, Jessica Dander's dead body is found at the bottom of the stairs of her home, neck broken, with her husband mourning over it. What raises suspicions that all is not what it seems - an accidental fall - is that the call was made by someone (a man) at a time when the husband said he was out of the house.

It turns out that Jessica really dominated her husband (to the point of beating him), and that the reason he had left the house was to avoid meeting her lover. (She didn't force him to leave, but she tended to flaunt the other man in front of him, so that he preferred to be elsewhere.) She had also had a child twenty years earlier, put up for adoption, and Thanet thinks it may be possible that the child has been trying to meet Jessica. This provides several possibilities for the reader's mind to work on.

All in all, Once Too Often is a typical Inspector Thanet novel: a classic detective story with a strong central character and believable supporting cast, both among the regular series characters and those who only appear in the one book.

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