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.