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.

Sunday Selection, or what to read next?

This morning I finally finished reading A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I enjoyed it, but it was with a sense of release that I read the final pages, because at 872 pages it’s taken me over a month to read it and I’m looking forward to reading something shorter, snappier and more succinct. I’ll write my thoughts about this mammoth book on the French Revolution later on.

So, I picked up Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley, which is much shorter at 192 pages and easier to read – and to handle. It’s a murder mystery about the death of Matthew Glynn a respectable bookseller.

But I’m also thinking ahead about what to read next. I have started The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, but I’m thinking of leaving it for now as it too is another long book. So, the possibilities are:

Fresh from the Country by Miss Read, (219 pages) about Anna Lacey plunged into her first teaching job in London. I’ve read most of Miss Read’s Thrush Green and Fairacre novels, but this one is new to me. Dora Jessie Saint, who wrote under the pen-name Miss Read, died earlier this month at the age of 98. She wrote over 30 books, gentle and unsentimental observations of English country and village life and I’ve loved each one I’ve read.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. This was my face-to-face book group choice this month, but I missed the meeting because it was the same day as our grandson’s birthday, and I hadn’t read the book anyway. I’d like to read it, though, because the group disagreed about the book – with some people disliking it and others who thought it was good. Maurice and Sarah had begun a love affair during the London Blitz and then Sarah had broken off the relationship. Maurice, driven by obsessive jealousy and grief sends a private detective to find out the truth. It would also be good to read it as it fits into the Classics Challenge.

And looking further ahead, I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to get any of the ‘free’ books offered in newbooks magazine, which arrived recently. I’ve narrowed my choice down to two books:

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox. This is set in Victorian England. Seventeen year old Phoebe takes a job as companion to Mr Samuel’s wife and encounters betrayal, loss and regret as she tries to adjust to life away from home.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, a debut novel by Wendy Jones. In 1924 Wilfred lives in rural Pembrokeshire where he runs the local funeral parlour. He fantasises about Grace, the daughter of the local doctor and on the spur of the moment he proposes to her. But then he realises that this is a mistake and tries to undo it.

Another book that has caught my eye recently is:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a debut novel by Rachel Joyce. I saw this in a local bookshop and nearly bought it then. It’s about Harold who walks from his home in Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland to see a dying friend. It’s the idea of a journey along the length of England that I find appealing, but the thought of the friend dying from cancer may be too close to home.

One thing is certain, I’ll never run out of books I’d like to read.