Sometimes, you just need a good book. Not a great one or one that will move your soul, but just a well-plotted, interestingly written story with characters who will keep your attention. I found myself in that state the other night, and rather than browsing my shelves for something to re-read, I got out my iPad and took a look at the mysteries in the library’s ebook collection. There were lots of titles there to choose from, and I decided to take a chance on Sally Spencer. I had never heard of her books before, but a British police procedural set in the post-WWII period sounded interesting. I was delighted with the choice.
Spencer’s main character, Inspector “Cloggin’ It” Charlie Woodend, is a great addition to the fictional police forces. Like some of my favorite other police inspectors, Adamsberg, Colbeck, and Dalziel, Woodend is often a thorn in the side of his superiors, and his sometimes unorthodox investigating style does not always endear him to his colleagues.
These are slow-paced stories, with more thinking, walking, and talking than cinematic thrills and chases. Like Simenon’s Maigret, Charlie Woodend lets the “why” lead to the “how” of the crime rather than vice versa. This first story in the series also introduces Sergeant Bob Rutter, who is assigned to Woodend to investigate a series of killings in a small town in Cheshire. Woodend has a reputation for running through sergeants pretty quickly, but Rutter turns out to be a match, and the interplay between the two builds as the series progresses.
Spencer does an excellent job of bringing in details of the personal lives of the policemen as well as cultural events of the period in which the books are set (moving forward from the 1950s). In particular, Spencer captures the disruption caused by the war and its aftermath to small town life. In the later stories, Spencer explores the difficult entry of women on to the force, and eventually develops a new series around one of her female detectives.
So while these books may not be the be all and end all of crime writing, they are solid examples of some of the best crime fiction I have read lately, and a welcome addition to my growing list of police procedurals.
Check the WRL catalog for The Salton Killings.
Also available as an ebook.