Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Whiff of Cyanide: Review

A Whiff of Cyanide (2017) by Guy Fraser-Sampson is the third in his Hampstead Murders series which makes great use of Golden Age detection--which, by the way, is a great delight for those of us who have a deep love for classic crime. He has found a way to weave tropes from the Golden Age into a modern day setting that is effective and makes for compelling reading. This time the Hampstead team--led by Superintendent Simon Collison with the assistance of Detective Sergeants Karen Willis and Bob Metcalfe--have to investigate a suspicious death at a crime writer's convention. Peter Collins, who has appeared regularly as a civilian assistant in these cases, has finally finished his book on poisons in Golden Age novels and has been asked to participate in one of the convention's panels. He brings Karen as his guest to the event's grand dinner and once again they're on hand when death occurs.

Ann Durham has been the head of the Crime Writer's Association for years--through pure force of will and a bullying personality more recently. But lately there have been stirrings of revolt among the ranks and (heaven forbid) there has been talk of a challenge to her leadership through a (gasp!) vote. She takes her frustrations out on everybody around her--from her loyal secretary to her daughter and her (the daughter's) regrettable boyfriend and workers at the hotel convention site. But even with all the bad vibes around, it's still initially suggested that she committed suicide when she takes a drink at the beginning of the dinner and immediately falls over dead. The scent of bitter almonds is very strong and everybody who attended the poison panel knew that she had a sample of cyanide in her possession (she brought it along as as tantalizing prop....). Since DS Willis is on the spot and moves rapidly to seal the area, no one at the head table is able to leave the dining room and a careful search of the room and those in the immediate vicinity leaves the police empty-handed. So if, as would be totally in character, she decided to take a most public leave of this world then why can't the cyanide vial be found?

The Hampstead team's investigation reveals secrets in Durham's past that adds a couple more suspects to the list. There are surprises in store for Durham's reading public...and a few surprises for members of Collison's team as well before murderer will be found and the case will be solved.

This is a strong entry in a very enjoyable series. I'm always interested to see how Fraser-Sampson will bring in references to Golden Age mysteries. The first entry had Peter Collins near-delusional in his assumption of the Lord Peter Wimsey persona. The second book brings in Dame Agatha herself (albeit through letters). And this time round we have an actress who has played Miss Marple for so long on television that she refuses to be addressed as anything else. She helpfully offers advice to the Hampstead officers in true Miss Marple fashion. But is she really helping or, as one of the suspects, is she trying to confuse the issue? There are clues and red herrings a-plenty, but clever readers should be able to sift them and rind the solution.

 Fraser-Sampson has created a compelling set of characters that have started to feel like old friends. It is fun to watch the progression of their relationships--both on the job and in their personal lives. The changes that come for the team members are interesting and not quite what I expected....and I'm not sure what I think about them. But I've come to trust the author's story-telling and can't wait to see what's next in the series. ★★★★ and a half 


Christophe said...

Thanks for bringing this author to my attention.
Would you recommend any particular title to a new reader?

Bev Hankins said...

While it's not absolutely necessary--each title can stand on its own, I'd suggest starting with the first one (Death in Profile). It's very good for a debut novel and it introduces you to the characters.

Christophe said...