‘He looked at her, knowing that the sand was running rapidly out of her glass….’ – Kill My Darling, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Melanie Hunter has gone missing. This is a strange happenstance in and of itself, but what is even stranger is the identity of the person who reported her disappearance, one Ronald Fitton. Fitton lives in the basement unit of the condominium complex where Melanie lives with her boyfriend Scott Hibbert. Hibbert is a real estate agent, clean on the surface but with something not quite wholesome lurking just beneath that surface. Or at least, that’s how it appears to DI Bill Slider and his team at the Shepherds’s Bush Borough Constabulary in London. As for Ronald Fitton, police and the public know only too well that he is capable of violence.
There were plenty of twists and turns in Kill My Darling, but not so many that I got lost. In fact, I was equal parts mesmerized and baffled, right alongside the investigators themselves. They’d seize upon a suspect, sure that they’d got hold of the solution to the puzzle, only to be proved wrong and left no closer to the truth.
A deft and clever writer, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has a marked penchant for puns, as her chapter titles will attest:
I Only Have Pies for You
Thirst Among Equals
Deliver Us From Elvis
Well, you get the idea….This propensity can at times be groan-inducing, but those times are few and far between. Mostly the puns are good clean fun. (As are the rhymes – at least, most of the time! Sorry – I just couldn’t help it…..)
There’s a new member of the team in this novel; at least, I don’t remember her from previous Slider books. Her name’s Connolly. She speaks with an Irish inflection and she’s a no nonsense investigator who saves her sympathy for those who deserve it. I like her enormously and hope that she will become a fixture in this series. Chief Inspector Porson, Bill Slider’s boss, already has that status. He’s a man who regularly mangles the English language, always with great conviction, as in this spirited exchange with Slider:
‘Like it or not, we’re engaged in a public relations exercise every time we stick our noses out of doors. Nothing and nobody’s sacrospect these days. You got to be seen to be doing something, and if that something is Ronnie Fitton – well, you can’t bake bricks without eggs. If we can’t keep the press busy they’ll be muddying the waters so we can’t see the wood for the pile anyway. I got more people on my back than a donkey at the beach, and a bird in the hand’s as good as a wink to a blind horse any day.’
Slider has a deep understanding of his boss: “When Porson was agitated, his grasp on language became even more random than usual. You could tell how riled he was by the degree of dislocation.”
Atherton, Slider’s second in command, is not only a shrewd policeman but also an urbane and debonair person who’s a master of the witty riposte. As for Bill Slider himself, he is one of my all time favorite stars of the British police procedural genre. Having managed to extricate himself from an unhappy marriage with a minimum of unpleasantness, he’s now happily married to Joanna, a violinist. They have a small son, George. Slider’s widowed father makes up the rest of the household.
Bill Slider is such a sensitive soul, you wonder he’s able to withstand the rigors of his job. Here, he has just left a particularly harrowing interview, ostensibly in order to make tea:
Slider went into the kitchen part, took the kettle to the tap, and leaned against the sink for a moment, his eyes closed. He found his hands were shaking. Emotional draining didn’t only happen to the narrator, he discovered, but to the interlocutor too.
Much is conveyed in the simple, direct language of that passage. (I love the author’s use of the word “interlocutor,” so reminiscent of Henry James.) But Bill Slider reserves his deepest empathy for the missing woman. Early on in the case, the team obtains a recently taken studio portrait of Melanie to be used in their investigation and distributed to the media. In the picture, “…she looked pretty and smiley and good, a nice girl with a good school record and a fine career ahead of her.” Gazing on this image, Slider experiences a mixture of sensations:
He felt horribly, guiltily, as though they had sealed her fate by taking over that photograph. He had no hope now that she would wander back home or they would find her alive, and he felt ashamed of his defeatism.
In a recent review of The Hanging Wood by Martin Edwards, I spoke of my appreciation of what I call added value in a mystery. In Kill My Darling, I got it from the description of a weather related phenomenon: “…an unbroken grey cover of cloud, too high for real rain, but dispensing the sort of fine mizzle you don’t even realize is there until you turn your face upwards and feel it pricking your skin like tiny insect feet.” Slider reflects that his mother had called this “haar.” Sure enough, Wikipedia defines haar as “…a coastal fog along certain lands bordering the North Sea.” There’s also a piece on haar and other terms for sea fog on the BBC’s site. (As it happens, Ron and I just got back from Plymouth Massachusetts and Cape Cod, where we encountered plenty of haar, accompanied at times by strong winds and temperatures in the fifties. Needless to say, the term ‘haar’ is now firmly entrenched in our mutual vocabulary.)
Before I conclude, I’d like to mention that I love the way Cynthia Harrod-Eagles writes about dogs and cats. She’s affectionate and realistic without giving way to sentiment. Here, for instance, are Atherton’s two cats in a mischief making mood:
Tig was trying to get his head up Atherton’s trouser leg, while Vash appeared to be calculating whether he could jump straight from the floor to the top of Atherton’s head. He’d done it before. It wasn’t the process that hurt but the arrival. Heads were slippery and required landing gear to be down.
Kill My Darling is the fourteenth entry in the Bill Slider series. It is my ardent hope that there are more to come. I always know that I’ll derive great pleasure from these novels. Their wit, incisive writing, and inventive plotting all put me in mind of the Dalziel and Pascoe series by the late Reginald Hill. I can offer no higher compliment to a work of crime fiction.