Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Death in the Night: Review

Sadly, were Jeeves to find himself in the streets of Mayfair today he would undoubtedly look around himself with dismay, as if forced to acknowledge an old friend who, since one's last encounter, has made a distinctly unsuitable marriage. ~A Death in the Night (p. 11)

A Death in the Night (Nov 2017) by Guy Fraser-Sampson is the fourth novel in his Hampstead Murders series. This time our murder takes place in an exclusive women's club in Mayfair. The book opens with one of the members walking into the club, stepping up to the desk, and asking for her key. You'd think this a fairly innocent request--but the receptionist looks at her as if she'd suddenly grown two heads. All is explained (sortof) when the club manager, Rowena Bradley, tells Professor Elizabeth Fuller that she's supposed to be dead. It seems that a woman was found dead in Fuller's room and no one who really knew the professor actually looked at the body. A fellow club member who is a doctor was called in to verify death (from what seemed to be natural causes) and the body was whisked away to the mortuary. The doctor had never met Professor Fuller, but didn't question the identity when told that she was needed in Professor Fuller's room. 

So....things get really interesting when Fuller shows up. Her husband has already been told she's dead. The people who have the body thinks it's her. When Rowena calls the mortuary to straighten things out, they decide that a postmortem is needed because of the weirdness.'s discovered that Angela Bowen (the women who wound up through a key mix-up in Fuller's room) has been suffocated. That means it's time to call in the police.

Coincidentally, Detectives Bob Metcalfe and Karen Willis were at the club on the fatal night. They and their partners attended a vintage dinner dance and met most of the prime suspects at the gala. When it becomes apparent that this will be a high-profile case (Fuller's husband Andrew is a prominent attorney) with tenuous connections to Hampstead, Superintendent Collison and his team are given the case. Their first task is to figure out whether Bowen was the intended victim or if someone thought they were killing Fuller. What makes the case really tricky is that both women have ties to Andrew--as his wife and his mistress. Andrew has a roving eye and often plays away from home--supposedly with his wife's blessing. In fact, there were more women at the club that night who have had flings with the attorney than might seem plausible. Did one of them kill thinking they'd get the wife out of the way and clear the field for them? Or was the fact that the mistress was pregnant significant? Did one of the Fullers get her out of the way before she could make life difficult for them? There are so many choices for prime suspect and it all depends on whether the right victim is lying in the morgue... 

[possible small spoilers ahead--read at your own risk]

Like Kate at Cross Examining Crime, I found the opening description of London as made up of small villages very affecting. It is one of the ways that Fraser-Sampson touches base with the Golden Age era of crime. So many of those novels took place in the small village where everybody knew everyone else (and exactly what they were up to). And that Jeeves quote above stood out to me too. One way that this book plays differently on the village theme is that the fact that perhaps some of the members of this small village (the club) don't know each other as well as they might. Even though our setting is a women's club--one that boasted Dorothy L. Sayers as a member back in the day, these women don't know one another as the women in Sayers's day would have. They use the club more like a hotel--stopping over on their way to the airport or for a single night on the town in London--rather than as the home-away-from-home that made clubs attractive in the early 20th Century. They're all just ships passing in the night, so to speak. So, it's not such a stretch to think that some of the members wouldn't recognize the victim (or wouldn't NOT recognize her as the case may be...). 

Overall, this is a terrific modern series for those of us that like our Golden Age mysteries. I’m still hoping for a five-star book, though. Each one in the series has had a small piece or two that has kept it from the full rating. This time round the one of the bits that niggled at me was the rather elaborate potential solution the team discussed that involved getting hold of the room key in advance and having a duplicate made. This didn’t make any sense–It appears that the club is run on a hotel basis and room assignment each time is random based on what’s available (unlike other clubs in other books I’ve read where the members have a room that is theirs). Otherwise, why wouldn’t Elizabeth Fuller immediately realize she’d got hold of the wrong key? And if random room assignment is the case–then the killer certainly couldn’t have made a duplicate key for Room 16 knowing that either Fuller or the victim would wind up there. It just seemed unlikely that Collison and his detective sergeants wouldn't have realized this and dropped the discussion. Instead, they spend a great deal of time hashing it out and then just go off and do other things (like the discussion never happened...).

I do have to say that I latched on to the murderer fairly early because reasons [which I would tell you, but it would definitely spoil the plot for you]. But this didn't affect my enjoyment at all. I always enjoy following the team as they work their way through the investigation so I treated this one as more of a Golden Age style police procedural than a puzzle plot that was meant to baffle me. Great fun and one of my favorite current mystery series. ★★★★  and a half.

Finished on 1/30/19

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