Aline Templeton continues with her successful formula in the fourth outing for DI Marjory Fleming of the Galloway (Scotland) police. The books are about rural policing, and hence don’t go in for gritty urban noir. Lamb to the Slaughter opens with the discovery of the body of a sheep that has been left in the courtyard of a craft centre in the small market town of Kirkluce. The job of the police is simply to remove and dispose of the corpse, but the event is a harbinger.
Kirkluce is the proposed site of a new superstore; together with other local shopkeepers, the craftspeople are opposed to the development as they know it will soon drive them out of business. A retired army colonel is the owner of the craft centre and hence principal opponent to the new scheme; but is his viewpoint wavering? A confrontational town-hall meeting ends with victory seeming to go to the developers but, of course, all is not what it seems.
Marjory and her colleagues embark upon a murder investigation that seems directly linked to these events. Their role throughout the book is mainly to interview all those with any connection to the development, whether pro or anti, which allows the author to present a range of local characters such as a bombastic councilman, a couple of teenage boy bikers, an unstable artist and his weird parents, an elderly farming woman who is the target of vandals, and a couple who are rather like vultures, waiting to come into an expected inheritance. There are also plenty of domestic vignettes. It is quite a shock that in some parts of the UK in 2008, such as here, the arrival of a character who is not ethnically white is cause for some local gossip and comment, though I don’t doubt that this is the case.
While the investigation is continuing, we also learn more about the police team introduced in previous novels: in Lamb to the Slaughter this mostly takes the form of the lower ranks, as Marjory’s previous battles with the bureacracy are not so significant here. Marjory’s own personal life also takes something of a back seat in this novel, though she has a run-in with her teenage daughter and can now rely on a saintly new tenant in the cottage on her farm – the polar opposite of the previous occupant.
As usual with this series, the book is a pleasant, well-constructed and engaging read. The crime part of the plot is satisfactorily resolved, though it depends on the police not having got around to interview certain people until near the end of the book, so for this reason is fairly easy to guess in outline. The aftermath of the case is what packs most punch in this book. I can’t write about the last few chapters without giving spoilers, but I found them quite compelling in their portrayal of a criminal justice system that focuses on the quick result rather than the right one. I was pleased both with Marjory’s instinctive lack of approval and with Tam’s neat final action, repeating an earlier initiative with a different goal.
I borrowed this book from the library.
Lamb to the Slaughter is fourth in the DI Marjory Fleming series. The first three books, in order, with links to my reviews, are: