Last Post, by Robert Barnard

July 6, 2008 at 12:10 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

Eve McNabb has come home to the village of Crossley to bury her mother May. It is, of course, a sad occasion, but an additional element of mystery intrudes when a letter arrives addressed to May by a woman named Jean. Eve has no idea who Jean is, but it is apparent from the letter’s wording that the correspondent does not know of her mother’s passing. The missive also alludes to a relationship Jean claims to have with May that passes beyond the bounds of mere friendship. Who is this woman, and what kind of hold did she have over May McNabb?

As a child, Eve had been quite close to her mother. For the most part, it was just the two of them; her father Tom had left the family early on and emigrated to Australia. Not long after his abandonment, May had informed Eve that her father was dead. In her professional life, May McNabb had been a teacher and headmistress whose reputation for probity was unquestioned. But on this one subject, she had resolutely declined to provide any specifics. Now, saying her final goodbyes to May, Eve finds herself plagued with doubts and questions. What was the real nature of her father’s fate? An even more radical question suggests itself: Might he still be alive after all?

Eve little suspects that by dint of her inquiries, she is embarking on a journey that will comprise both joy and heartbreak. One thing is for certain: her life will never be the same.

For over two decades, ever since I first discovered the joys of crime fiction, I’ve been enjoying the works of Robert Barnard. Last fall, as part of our Smithsonian mystery tour, my husband and I had the pleasure of meeting this fine writer. Barnard is not only a much-honored author of mysteries; he is also an authority on the Bronte family. The talk he present to our group at the Bronte parsonage was fascinating.

[Robert Barnard addressing our group at the Bronte Parsonage]

[Robert Barnard receiving the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award in 2003]

Barnard has fielded several series in the course of his writing career. (He has also written a number of standalones like Last Post. See the entry in Stop! You’re Killing Me for the complete rundown.) An early title in the Perry Trethowan series, Death by Sheer Torture, is a riff on the country house mystery tradition, at which Barnard pokes exhuberant fun in the course of the novel.

Another of my favorites is The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, which features policeman Charlie Peace. Haworth is where the Bronte Parsonage is. As our tour bus was entering this jewel of a village last fall, we drove right by the Tandoori featured in the eponymous novel! (Oh, dear – will we ever have a chance once again to have this much fun in the beloved old country?…)

Last Post finds Robert Barnard in top form. Eve McNabb is an enormously appealing protagonist; you’ll find yourself rooting for her from start to finish. I know I did.

3 Comments

  1. Martin Edwards said,

    A Scandal in Belgravia is another title that I can strongly recommend. It makes good use of Barnard’s abiding interest in British politics and has a great last page twist.

  2. Roberta Rood said,

    i’d like to second this recommendation from Martin Edwards. I enjoyed A Scandal in Belgravia hugely!

  3. Pauline Cohen said,

    Roberta,

    I finished A Scandal in Belgravia last night (chosen because of the recommendations above) and loved all the political stuff. It took me back to my life in England when the Suez Canal crisis was a huge event and Anthony Eden was P.M. I was a teenager at the time. I also remember a number of the politicians mentioned. But I have to admit, unlike Mr. Edwards above, I was a little disappointed by the last page twist. Ditto for The Last Post. I like both books a lot, but would have preferred not to have those surprises at the very end of the stories. Is this typical of Robert Barnard’s work?

    Thanks for your great blog.

    Pauline

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