Book review: Lying Dead by Aline Templeton

Lying Dead
by Aline Templeton
Hodder & Stoughton 2007

DI Marjory Fleming, in her third outing, continues to establish successfully her niche as a senior female cop who is competent and professional as she heads up her Galloway (western Scotland) team in what is turning out to be its annual murder investigation. Marjory is also a farmer’s wife, a mother of two school-age children and daughter to a father recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The combination of detective story with domestic drama is expertly handled by Aline Templeton, the result being highly readable – though the crime investigations seem to me not as realistic as the slice-of-life aspects, on the whole.

In Lying Dead, a woman’s body is discovered in a forest glade by an ex-prisoner – a man convicted of robbery and assault, now released on licence and working on the land. Recognising the woman and scared that he’ll be accused of killing her, the man wraps the body in a tarpaulin and drags it to a more remote location.

Cut to the police team, whose members are bickering at a time of low caseload. The discovery of the body galvanises Marjory and co into action, but not for long because the victim turns out to come from Manchester and is assumed by that police force to have been killed there and transported to Scotland. Marjory is less convinced, but has to deal tactfully with her opposite number in Manchester, who regards the case as pretty cut-and-dried. At the same time, she’s unsettled by the jostling for position of two of her constables, both keen to become sergeants and not averse to sucking up to Marjory’s boss or cutting corners in order to look good. Not only that, but Marjory’s husband Bill has offered a job to Findlay Stevenson, who lost his farm to the foot and mouth epidemic two years ago. Stevenson is an OK guy and grateful for the work as well as the cottage that Bill offers with it. His wife Susan is a different proposition, however – she hates Marjory as she blames her for her family’s problems. Matters come to a head when Findlay is arrested for getting into a fight at a local sheepdog display, leading to Marjory becoming an even bigger target for Susan’s manipulative venom.

In parallel with these plots, we learn about the seaside community of Drumbreck. Two men have bought up land near the shore and built a marina in order to attract the rich and trendy second-homers and yachting types from Glasgow. To some extent this ploy has succeeded, but there is a lot of restentment among the locals because the village shop has closed (the visitors bring their own food from city supermarkets) and nobody can afford to live there because of high property prices, not to mention the constant parties and drunken scenes in the bar. The novel describes four or five separate stories about people who live in Drumbeck, each one a powder keg in its own right – so not only is the tension in each of these microplots ratcheted up, but each one of them increasingly seems to relate to the case that Marjory and co are investigating.

I very much enjoyed reading this novel, even though it was a little incredible at times – for example the police don’t seem to have heard of mobile phones and the dead woman turns out to have known a great many people who live or have now ended up independently in this small corner of Scotland. One does not exactly have to suspend belief, but although the characters, background and location all strongly motivate the reader to continue the series, the core “mystery” has a slightly contrived air to it. I shall certainly continue reading these books as there is a great deal to like about them, not least the character of Marjory, but I hope that the slight “cosy, mystery formula” element to the investigations can fade out in future in favour of more challenging, realistic conundrums and denouements.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Read other reviews of Lying Dead at: Euro Crime (Karen Meek) and Reviewing the Evidence (Sharon Wheeler).

My reviews of the earlier books in the D I Marjory Fleming series: Cold in the Earth (#1) and The Darkness and the Deep (#2).

About Lying Dead at the author’s website.

15 thoughts on “Book review: Lying Dead by Aline Templeton

  1. I’m having a ‘Scottish moment’ as I am in the middle of reading Ann Cleeve’s Raven Black. Perhaps I will give this a go too. Sometimes you need to suspend disbelief in small towns/rural settings as the main protagonists need to congregate in one place, however unlikely that might be. Hopefully I should be able to pick this author up at my local library.

    • I hope you enjoy Raven Black, Sarah. That quartet is darker than Aline Templeton, based on my reading of AT so far, anyway!

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  3. Maxine – An excellent review, as ever. You capture, I think, something that is often a challenge for series authors. As a series goes on, how to keep the murder investigations interesting and engaging – even edgy – without descending into bloodbaths, getting too “cute,” or otherwise becoming formulaic. It’s not an easy thing to do. I am glad you liked this one and I hope with you that the series stays “on track.”

  4. I really like the books, Karen. I think you haven’t read the first one, but if you had you would recognise the basic plot/identity of the criminal from that, as she recycles the same plot, in effect. I think if you hadn’t read the first novel then this one would seem more original than if you had!

  5. Just a slightly off-topic point: I just finished Outrage, an outstanding mystery by one of my favorite writers, Arnaldur Indridason. He surely
    showed that a male writer can write well about a woman protagonist, and one who has a “normal” home life, and is not an alcoholic or
    otherwise damaged person. I give kudos to him for doing that, as I was beginning to doubt that it’s possible, and more kudos for
    handling a very sensitive topic. Also, the investigation was done well, step-by-step, with the sympathy built up for the victim and her family.
    I do agree with a point you made that we readers couldn’t quite figure out the culprit because we didn’t know certain clues until near the end of the book, although
    we could have guessed the type of person it could have been, one related to a victim.
    This is quite a good book. I’m thinking about it and also that I can loan it to women friends who keep complaining to me that they’re
    sick of books written usually by men that have so much gratuitous and bloody violence against women that they never want to see it again.

    • I agree with you about Outrage, Kathy, a most enjoyable book and as is often the case with Scandinavian crime fiction, bucking the regrettable violence (for the sake of it – usually against women).

  6. And there was also an undertone of dissatisfaction of not putting rapists in jail for nearly enough time. A character says that someone who committed the crime against her would only get a year or two.

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