Murder Being Once Done was first published in 1972. Inspector Wexford is convalescing, staying with his nephew, Howard, in London. He is bored, fussed over by his wife Dora, on a strict diet, denied the food he loves, absolutely ordered off alcohol and police work by his doctor, so all he can do to pass his time is to take walks and talk with his nephew about More’s Utopia which he has borrowed from the library. What makes it all most frustrating is that his nephew is a Dectective Superintendent and he is investigating the death of Loveday Morgan, aged about 20, found in a vault in a London cemetery.
Wexford just cannot resist going to the scene of the crime – Kenbourne Vale Cemetery, a huge and bizarre place, which Wexford finds profoundly sinister and awe-inspiring:
Never before, not in any mortuary or house of murder, had Wexford so tellingly felt the oppressive chill of death. The winged victory held back her plunging horses against a sky that was almost black, and under the arches of the colonnades lay wells of gloom. He felt that not for anything would he have walked between those arches and the pillars that fronted them to read the bronze plaques on their damp yellow walls. Not for renewed health and youth would he have spent a night in that place. (page 17)
From then on he defies his doctor’s orders and helps Howard with his investigations. He has to go carefully though, feeling rather lost away from the familiar ground of Kingsmarkham, his “essential Wexfordness” deserting him for a while, and aware of the attitude of the townsman towards his country cousin. Wexford gets more involved and is convinced he’s found the murderer only to discover that he’s made a mistake. Then he realises how
deeply his illness had demoralized him. Fear of getting tired, fear of getting wet, fear of being hurt – all these fears had contributed to his failure. (page 138)
He’s about to give up, feeling old and useless. Then, when he is presented with a vital clue he gets back his yearning for the truth, excitement sets the adrenlin surging through his blood and shivers traveling up his spine as he sees his quarry in his sight.
Although this is quite a short book it’s densely packed, not only with details of the crime, but touching on such issues as single mothers, poverty, ignorance and religious intolerance. It’s strong on sense of place, and although there are a few passages painting a picture of life in the 1970s it has a timeless quality about it, with enough twists and turns for me to be unsure of the outcome.
I liked the chapter heading quotations from Sir Thomas More’s Utopia – the title comes from one of these:
The murder being once done, he is in less fear and more hope that the deed shall not be betrayed or known, seeing the party is now dead and rid out of the way, which only might have uttered or disclosed it.