Geraldine Evans has done it again. The distinguished, veteran British crime writer has turned out another crackling, entertaining and highly satisfying crime mystery in her Rafferty & Llewellyn British mystery series, Game of Bones – 18th in the series.
Once again, we have the delightful team of maverick, intuitive Inspector Rafferty and his stolid, infinitely irritating and endlessly disapproving sergeant sidekick, Llewelln – bickering and quibbling their way to a conclusion to the case – with Inspector Rafferty spewing steams of exasperation out of his ears. It is funny all the way, in its endearingly charming expose of human foibles, follies and peccadilloes.
Yes, we have a brutal murder of a distinguished university professor, yes we have another professor suspect, and another equally suspicious character, a sashaying, swishy, fashion-loving young man (tsk, task, Ms. Evans). Yes, we have numerous twists and turns, reversals and red herrings. But running through the narrative is the very funny subtle competition between maverick inspector Rafferty with his 6th sense and his plodding logician of a sergeant, Llewelln. Rafferty starts off with a bang of confidence, convinced he has already nailed the murderer in an air-tight case, but his methodical sergeant has other ideas, and slowly we see Rafferty’s convictions dissolved in a puddle of self-doubt. This thread runs all throughout the investigation and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of these two sparring partners, and Rafferty’s discomposure as his sergeant’s thesis seems to be confirmed by the investigation.
And of course, round every corner of the investigation, we meet a whole series of captivating, eccentric characters, some unsavory, some just normal folk, and some bizzare beyond belief.
One of my favorites was the landlord of one of the suspects, Sebastian Carlton, who says to the two officers:
You go through his stuff good. Make sure he no steal from me. He vain boy. Wear crevets. Must be poof. No girlfriends. Never.
That got a bark of a laugh out of me (and a bit of finger wagging at Ms. Evans). Also endearing is Rafferty’s mum who engages in a moment of hen-pecking and brow beating of her officer son.
As we roll along on this rollicking ride (alliteration there), we are accompanied on this journey by a very comforting, reassuring companion- and that is Ms. Evans prose. Written with such beautiful cadences, rhythms and modulations, it is almost a lost world of ‘old fashioned values,’ when the beauties of the English language were de rigeur in any novel, crime or otherwise. Ms. Evans has the inner ear for language missing from so many contemporary crime novelists, with their fiendishly clever plots and utilitarian prose. We hear it in the controlled rhythms and dramatic pacing of her sentences. It is not flowery, literary language. This is not Alan Hollinghurst here. The prose has the hard edge appropriate to a crime novel. But it is there all the same, creating in the background a sense of gentle order and rightness in a confused world, peopled as it is by eccentrics and criminals, capable of nefarious deeds. Her prose style is one of the characters of the book.
And now we come to the ending, the denouement, when all is revealed – the test of any good crime novel. I didn’t see it coming, which, of course, is a good thing – and it happened so fast and so convincingly that it took my breath away. It was one of those “Aha, Eureka” moments we have all had in our lives. For example, we search our bookshelves for a favorite book and can’t seem to find it, no matter how hard we try or how many times we run through the shelves. Then we go out to dinner, have a few martinis and a bottle of wine, come back home and there is the book winking at us on the central shelf, right in front of our nose. This is what happens to Inspector Rafferty. The clue was there all the time, he just couldn’t see it. But once he does see it, everything makes perfect sense for him and for us the readers as well. This is the technique of a master crafts person. Because of this brilliantly executed ending, I finished the book with that deep sense of satisfaction that is the primary pleasure of crime writing. Thank you, Ms Evans, you’ve done it again. And we all look forward to Volume 19th of your Rafferty and lleweeln British mystery series.
A pleasurable five stars: