Saturday, September 29, 2018

Death Unholy (DI Tremayne #1), by Phillip Strang

Phillip Strang, September 2017

This is the first of the DI Tremayne murder mysteries. Tremayne is in his fifties, an older cop accustomed to older ways, not entirely comfortable with the changes--but not ready to retire, much though Superintendent Moulton would like him to. His partner is DS Clare Yarwood--young, eager for a career in homicide, and very comfortable with computers, the internet, and what they can do.

For both good and ill, she's also not old, hardened, and cynical, like Tremayne.

This case starts with what doesn't at first glance appear to be a murder, just a strange and unexplained death, apparently by spontaneous human combustion. But Tremayne doesn't believe in unexplained deaths, especially not the kind that leave no evidence of the cause.

The dead man's visiting nurse, Mavis Godwin, doesn't seem at all a suspect for whatever happened, but she also is strangely discouraging of any investigation. Yet she does talk to Yarwood, a bit, and then her husband, Travis, disappears. She's a church-going, devout woman, and Tremayne and Yarwood wind up talking to her and the local vicar, at the church. They both drop strange hints of unholy forces, and discourage further investigation.

Then Mavis Godwin is found, clearly murdered, drowned in a water trough, and the vicar, Harrison, commits suicide.

In alternating sections, the reader or gets hints of what's going on--a secretive pagan cult based in the nearby village of Avon Hill, which has persisted for centuries, since the squire's son found an ancient manuscript during the plague.

Tremayne is the determined skeptic; everything has an explanation. No ancient gods, no dark magic. Yarwood is more open, or suggestible, but equally determined to find the truth of who is causing the deaths, whatever the method. And a few witnesses are, just a bit, more willing to talk to her.

This is a tough case that's hard on everyone involved in the investigation, and without spoilers, it extracts a heavy price form the Bemerton Street police station and everyone working on the case. It's a very effective introduction to Tremayne, Yarwood, and the rest of the regulars, and well worth reading.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic copy of the six-book boxed set that includes this book, and am reviewing it voluntarily.