Written by Guy Fraser-Sampson — Hampstead is one of London’s more desirable quarters, with its lofty position, much sought-after properties, and reputation for housing many of the city’s millionaires. Murder does not respect postcode, however, and when the wife of a well-to-do doctor is found dead, the local constabulary compare earlier fatalities, and conclude that they have a serial killer on their hands.
The book enthusiastically enters cosy territory, which is strange for serial killer novels, and we are spared the clinical details so beloved by fans of mass murder mysteries. The story is not a pastiche in the accepted sense, but the author has taken a set of characters who behave as if they were in a Golden Age novel, and set them down in a 21st century setting. You feel, therefore, that you are reading a comforting detective story from another era, but with DNA matching, mobile phones and laptops thrown in. The coppers are reassuringly decent folk, and the the trope of the misanthropic and angst-ridden police detective is, for once, absent.
DI Tom Allen is taken off the case much to his chagrin, but is determined to use his street smarts to follow his own leads. He is replaced by DI Simon Collison, an educated and urbane individual – very much the modern graduate detective. Psychologist Peter Collins is brought in to identify what kind of twisted being could be responsible for the deaths, and it is only a mild problem that he is the partner of one of the murder team, DC Karen Willis. What becomes a growing problem, however, is the romantic attraction between the gauche bachelor DI Metcalfe and the alluring Karen.
Thanks to the profile provided by Collins, a suspect is identified, interviewed, charged and brought to trial. The trial is described in some detail, with the author showing that he has a good ear for how fictional British barristers and judges are meant to speak. The accused is convicted and sent to prison.”But hang on,” you may well say, “we are hardly half way through the novel, and the case is closed. Have the police got the wrong man?” You will be correct. There is another tale to be told.
Shocks and surprises are mostly absent, but what does bring us up short is that the profiler, who pointed the police in what they thought was the right direction, temporarily loses his marbles and imagines that he is one of our favourite Golden Age amateur detectives, Lord Peter Wimsey. The hapless police then stretch credulity even further by engaging with the deluded gentleman and pretending to be other characters from Dorothy L Sayers’ much loved series.
After this strange interlude, the police do come away with a theory, based on the plot of a novel featuring the aforementioned amateur sleuth. This literary explanation of the motives behind the crimes proves to be close to the truth, despite the police team heading off, once more, in the wrong direction.
This is a pleasant enough read, and it is very much a character-led narrative. Collison, Metcalfe and Willis are warmly described, and they are reassuringly normal in a Golden Age sense. They are well-mannered, politely spoken and seem not to have an unpleasant bone in their collective bodies. Unlike most of their fictional Met Police colleagues, the team at Hampstead are strangers to profane language and nary an eff nor a blind is uttered throughout. The book is clearly intended to be an homage to those far-off days of detecting, when monocles, open-topped Bentleys, cravats and tweed jackets were in profusion, and the unknown criminal was always referred to as ‘Chummie’. It mostly succeeds, and will provide a diverting hour or two of reading on a spring afternoon.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars