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A GHOST IN THE MACHINE
A Chief Inspector Barnaby Mystery
By Caroline Graham
St. Martinís Minotaur Edition, August 2004 ($24.95)
Reviewed by Cherie Jung
I was looking forward to reading A GHOST IN THE MACHINE, the latest book in the DCI Barnaby series by Caroline Graham.
The author is highly regarded when it comes to writing the English village mystery. She captures both the quaintness of village life and the unseemly side of things -- the crimes and vices lurking just beyond the shadows in the neatly kept or tumbled down gardens of a country village.
In A GHOST IN THE MACHINE, death comes to Forbes Abbot not once, but twice. Is there a connection between the two dead people? There doesnít appear to be. A local resident is found, quite dead, in his own "war room" -- a museum of old torture machines and antique war weapons heís collected and displays for himself, but not the public, in his home. Was his death a horrible accident, as the coroner claims or a brutal murder as one of his friends insists? Soon a woman claiming to have psychic powers promises to reveal a murderer at her next session but is found dead, in her bed. Did she die of natural causes? Sorting through the lies and deceptions of the villagers will prove a substantial task for Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sgt. Troy. Is anyone telling them the truth?
I love the TV series but the book was a disappointment. I expected a mix of English cozy with police procedural, with DCI Barnaby and DS Troy, unraveling a series of crimes, like the TV series, but the two cops were almost secondary characters in this book. They didn't even show up in the book for over 140 pages and then were gone again before the book ended. And Iím sorry to say that while the two were present, there seemed an edge to their characters that may have been softened in the television version. The two seemed not only unhappy about working with each other, but downright mean about it. By the end of it all, I found that I didnít really like either of them any more.
Not liking the long-time series characters is bad enough but I also found I didnít like any of the other characters. Well, thatís not quite right. I liked two of them. One of those ended up dead. So there you are.
I suspect that if you are a fan of the TV version of this series, and have not read any of the books, you may want to start with one of the earlier books if you can find them. As far as I can tell, theyíve been out of print for some time, even though the TV series, "Midsomer Murders" is quite popular and is still being filmed,in the UK. You may want to try an online service, used bookstores, or your public library. The TV series is based on characters created by the author, not the actual books. (Except for the first few books, which were filmed for the TV series.)
Fans of the written series may enjoy this latest installment.
I donít want to give too much of the plot away, but I would find it interesting to hear how other readers fared with the ending. Iíve heard it described as a "twist ending" but I think some readers will feel cheated by the ending. I certainly felt that way. I also have serious doubts that the murderer could have orchestrated one of the murders.
Now Iím not saying that the author did a bad job of writing this book, just that it didnít fulfill my expectations. I suppose if I run across an earlier book in the series, I might give it a read, but I canít honestly say I will read the next one if there is one.
Previous titles in this series includes: THE KILLINGS AT BADGERíS DRIFT, DEATH OF A HOLLOW MAN, MURDER AT MADINGLY GRANGE, DEATH IN DISGUISE, THE ENVY OF A STRANGER, WRITTEN IN BLOOD, FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH, and A PLACE OF SAFETY.
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