Monday, May 18, 2020

Deadly Pattern

Deadly Pattern (1970) by Douglas Clark
Third in the Masters & Green series

Detective Chief Inspector George Masters and his team are winding up the case of the murdered vicar in Rooksby and looking forward to a little time at home when the Yard informs them that they've got another case to handle. Five middle-aged, middle class married women have gone missing from two neighboring towns on the northeast coast. Four of their bodies have been found buried in the sand dunes of Finstoft, but the last one to disappear is still missing. Neither of the towns' detective forces have much experience in murder and they'll be glad of help from those who do.

Masters, Green, and company go back over the ground already covered by the locals--re-interviewing family members and asking many questions that no else thought to ask. It soon becomes apparent that they are dealing with a neurotic serial killer who must have been familiar with the area. Recent (in 1970) information on these types of disorders indicate that these killers work to a pattern--perhaps a pattern that makes sense only to them, but a pattern nonetheless. Masters makes it his job to figure out the pattern...if he can do so, he's sure he'll be able to find the last missing woman. He realizes that there must be some common point of contact between these five women--something must connect them beyond their age and social standing. Also on his team's plate is discovering how someone could strangle five women without any of them leaving the standard traces of having fought back. Because no one is going just placidly stand there while someone tries to kill them.

I enjoyed this entry in the series more than the first two. The antagonism between Masters and Green is still an underlying theme, but Clark handles it better here. It doesn't seem to be quite as dominant as in the previous two novels. It was interesting to follow the team as they deal with their first (in recorded stories) serial killer. And--if I recall correctly--it's the only one they come up against in the series novels I've read. Masters' investigation is thorough and, for the most part, logical. He does hold a few cards close to his chest and if I hadn't already spotted the killer through other means, I might cry "foul" at his hoarding clues. 

That is one flaw in this particular plot--Clark didn't seem to be trying all that hard to hide the culprit. Recently, I read an online piece talking about Christie and her timeless appeal. Several things were mentioned as contributing to that appeal--readability and her way with misdirection being two of them. For me, Clark follows in Christie's footsteps for readability. Once I read my first Masters and Green novel, I was hooked and set out on a quest to find and read them all. They are quick, interesting stories that I just plain enjoy reading (whether I quibble with his handling of personalities or not). Sometimes he does just as well with misdirection, fooling me completely. But not here. It seemed to me that once our culprit walked on stage s/he was lit up in a spotlight and there didn't seem to be much of an effort to focus attention on any suspects at all. This didn't really affect my enjoyment of the book (though I did wonder why the identity seemed to be such a mystery to our intrepid police force). I think perhaps that Clark was fascinated with the idea of the serial killer and the practices of such murderers and wanted to focus more on the details of the pattern than worry about disguising the culprit. And that was okay with me since these novels are police procedural in nature. Overall, a very good entry in the series. ★★  and  1/2

Deaths = 5 (strangled)
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: Silver (Rule #8: All clues must be fairly disclosed)
Calendar of Crime: February (Primary Action)

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