Crime Fiction Alphabet: W is for Wycliffe …

Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley.

From the back cover:

When Matthew Glynn, a respectable bookseller is found bludgeoned and strangled, Chief Superintendent Wycliffe is mystified. Why would anyone want to kill him, and in such a brutal manner?

But a look at Glynn’s background reveals tension within the family. Alfred Glynn, an eccentric recluse, has held a grudge against his brother for years and the older brother, Maurice, argued bitterly with Matthew over the sale of family land. Add to this a discontented son, valuable documents in the bookseller’s safe, and the mysterious, still unexplained disappearance of Matthew’s wife years earlier, and Wycliffe faces one of his most impenetrable cases yet.

Then another Glynn dies and the murderer’s identity seems obvious. But Wycliffe is not convinced – and soon uncovers some very murky secrets, and the possibility of another murder …

My view:

The story is set in Penzance and its immediate neighbourhood, so Burley, who knew the area well (he lived near Newquay), sets the scene well. The three Glynn brothers didn’t get on, with a long-standing quarrel between Matthew and Alfred, which was connected to their mother, and a more recent row between Matthew and his other brother, Maurice, who objected to Matthew’s proposal to build houses near to Maurice’s pottery. And as Trice, the local DI,  tells Wycliffe, the locals are suspicious of outsiders – he’s talking not just about Cornwall, but about the local area, Penwith, which in Cornish means ‘ … “the extreme end”. The people here feel different – they are different.’

And this is a murder mystery with a difference, because all is not clear by the end. There are plenty of suspects, not just the brothers but also their sister and grown-up children. The reader is left to work out the puzzle, indeed Wycliffe struggles to come to terms with his suspicions and his mind is in turmoil:

With something approaching desperation, Wycliffe was trying to see the events in perspective, to relate them one to another and to imagine the repressed tensions and accumulated bitterness which had finally surfaced. But what troubled him most was the thought that he was being pushed beyond his role as an investigating officer into decisions which were either moral or judicial or both. (page 185)

I liked the book very much, with its complex plot, convincing characters, and in particular the way Wycliffe’s humane and thoughtful character is portrayed. The ending certainly makes you think.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New Ed edition (2 Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752844458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752844459
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 4/5

A Crime Fiction Alphabet post for the letter W.

8 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: W is for Wycliffe …”

  1. Sounds really good! I have yet to Wycliffe. Watched the TV series though and I suppose that makes me put the books on the back burner as it seems I’ve already read them. But I really need to get busy on them, I’m sure their much better than the show!

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  2. My husband recently read the first in this series and liked it. I have read several of them a long time ago but want to start over from the beginning also. Glad you featured this author. Confirms I should get going on the series… again.

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  3. I enjoyed the TV series and borrow DVDs of it from the library when I can. I think the books and TV adaptations complement each other. However, there were only so many books to adapt, and the later episodes were created by the production company. Far fewer of these involved the complex family stories, complete with interesting characters, and many secrets and unexpected twists, that W J Burley did so well. Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death is just one example. The books are well worth reading, or re-reading!

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    1. Did you know most of the Midsommer Murders by Carolyn Graham were production company creations? I watched them on DVD’s and there was an episode with the author, actors and production company. It seems the author received a cut but they were not from her books! Loved this series. Is it still running (with Tom’s cousin the main character)?

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  4. I’ve been seeing references to the Wycliffe books so I checked out 2 from the library and then noticed it was a TV series. Viewed the first episode. For me, it’s about the scenery-ha. I love seeing Scotland,Cornwall, London, OXFORD, etc. The background music was nothing like Morse but the acting was OK. Will give the main character a few more chances. But now I must read the BOOKS. Thanks.

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    1. Reply to myself. Spoke too soon. Music is fine and the main character is growing on me. Have now seen Episode 1,2 and 3. British mystery programs’ music and cinematography (Morse, Lewis and Midsommer) are outstanding. Now to the BOOKS.

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  5. I’ve just borrowed the first DVD of the TV series and the pilot episode was Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death. It must have sold the series to programmers, so the rest followed, with the Kersey and Masters familiar to us, whereas the pilot had these roles taken by others. Soon I must re-read some of these books, starting with this one.

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