The silence of the deep forest is broken by the insistent ring of a cell phone. The forester who investigates is horrified by the discovery of a dead woman–not only because she’s been murdered, but also because he knows her, and knows if she’s found, he’ll be the first and only suspect the police pursue. So he drags her away, hiding her deeper in the woods, in the hope she might not be found for decades. Unluckily for him, the corpse will be found in mere days.
DI Marjory Fleming and her team are suffering the doldrums of summer; even the petty criminals appear to be off holiday-making and causing trouble for some other squad. The discovery of the body in the forest brings them swiftly to attention–and soon they have arson, another murder, and an attempted murder to keep them hopping. The investigation will take Fleming and her sergeant to Manchester, England, but the killer is much closer to home than that. The killer, as Marjory learns almost too late, is within striking distance of her own team.
Aline Templeton got me again! I settled on one of her craftily-planted red herrings (who did turn out to be lying about a crucial detail that cracked the case open) and thought I’d solved the case well before my fictional clanswoman. Not so! This time, not only is the killer right in front of us for the whole book, Templeton plants a major clue early on–one that she successfully disguises as innocent fun, irrelevant to the case. I was gobsmacked by the revelation of the killer–and I love a mystery novel that can do that to me!
This was a gripping read from the very first pages–Templeton is skilled at communicating personality in just a few lines, so even the tertiary characters feel like living people seething with motives for a range of crimes. She spends nearly half the book setting up the second victim for murder, giving lots of people perfectly believable cause to want him dead. I stayed up well past my bedtime the night I finished the book, because once it started rolling toward conclusion, there was just no putting it down until the whole thing was resolved.
Series like these succeed on the strength of their main characters, and whether we invest in them as we get to know more about their lives from book to book. DI Fleming and her family are easy to relate to as they go through the kinds of stuff a lot of families experience–a parent whose dementia has progressed past the point the family can handle on their own; teen and tween issues with their children; communication challenges within the marriage. Marjory and Bill are still rebuilding their relationship after the events of the first book, and have reached a good place–which is endangered by actions on both their parts in this book. The daughter has largely recovered from the crisis of the second book, but continues to be a difficult teenager. The son is certainly going to have his own starring turn in an upcoming book–you can just feel him reaching the age when starts to test boundaries and tries to distance himself from the family unit.
Professionally, ‘Big Marge’ faces a test of her authority, as malcontents in the squad room challenge her leadership and nearly wreck the case. She also has to deal with the condescending attitude of her opposite number in the Manchester police–but here, Templeton nicely subverts the expected country vs. city clash, and this helps the characters involved seem like real people instead of cardboard cut-outs.
I will be very excited to revisit Kirkluce and the Fleming family–and to test my wits against Templeton’s plotting skills again–but not for a while. Only six DI Fleming books have been published so far, and the day I don’t have another one to look forward to will be bleak indeed. I can’t trust myself not to wolf the books down all in one go, so I’ve decided I’m going to wait until I just plain can’t stand it any more before I order the next book–and don’t think it doesn’t hurt me to hold out. Templeton left plenty of threads dangling at the end of Lying Dead, including the health status of one of the best supporting characters, and the feeling of life in Kirkluce moving on without is difficult to ignore. It’s hard to refrain from dropping in on characters who’ve begun to feel like friends, but I trust that the longer the separation lasts, the sweeter the reunion will be.