THE WAGES OF DESIRE
Pegasus Crime (2016)
An Inspector Lamb Novel
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
In the late summer of 1942, the war seems far away from the tranquil Hampshire countryside. The German bombers who dropped their deadly bombs months ago have moved on, and life has gone back to normal, or as close as is possible. The police force is short-staffed because of the war, but serious crime rarely rears its ugly head in this corner of the world.
Chief Inspector Thomas Lamb heads the Hampshire Constabulary, based in Winchester. He is a veteran of the First World War, or, as his generation called it, the Great War to end all wars. Now he is keeping the peace while World War II rages on. Early one morning, he gets a call that the vicar of a church in the village of Winstead has discovered a woman’s body in Saint Michael’s Cemetery. Having just sprained his ankle badly, his daughter Vera drives him to the crime scene.
Vera has been out of the work force for months, and Lamb is concerned that she might be called up to serve in a war-related job. Most of those jobs aren’t dangerous, but some of them place the women in harm’s way. As a veteran of the last war, he wants to keep her as far from the carnage as he can. Much to his dismay, she shows a keen interest in his profession. She also shows a keen interest in Detective Sergeant David Wallace, a match he disapproves of.
On this early morning, Vera drives him to the scene of the murder, the first in many decades. A woman identified as Ruth Aisquith has been shot to death, her body left near a recently dug grave. He is met by Lawrence Tigue, the chairman of the parish civic council, and Samuel Built, a member of the Home Guard and acting constable for Winstead. He and his team examine the crime scene, talk to the witnesses, then turn the body over to the doctor and forensics man. He questions Vicar Gerald Wimberly, who found and reported the body. Something doesn’t ring true with his story, and Lamb knows this will not be an easily-solved case.
The name Tigue strikes a chord in his memory. As a young police constable twenty years ago he was called in on a tragic case that happened at a farmhouse on Tigue land. Claire O’Hare hanged herself in her parlor after her abusive husband Sean left her, taking their small twin sons with him. The husband and children were never seen again. Their house, on land owned by the Tigue family, has been abandoned for years, an empty husk holding old secrets. It is said to be haunted. A few local nosy-bodies have seen strange goings-on lately. Is it the ghost of Claire O’Hare, or flesh-and-blood humans up to no good?
Lamb also recalls that a prison camp for Italian prisoners of war is being built on Tigue land near the old farmhouse. When Ruth is identified as an employee at the camp, avenues of investigation open up. An unpleasant find at the camp, revealed by digging near the old Tigue homestead, links an old tragedy to the present-day murder.
During the investigation, Lamb is both helped and hindered by the villagers. There are many secrets lurking under the calm façade of Winstead. Some villagers are trying to hide them; some are doing their best to expose them. Chief among the latter is twelve-year-old Lilly Martin. Left at home alone while her mother works a night shift in a factory, Lilly fancies herself a girl detective. She roams through the streets and woods at night, looking for any unusual goings-on, never dreaming that there could be true evil in this idyllic town. She enjoys the schaudenfruede* of other peoples’ lives, and there is plenty of that to go around.
Flora Wheatley is a busybody with an obsession for saving the nuthatches. She suspects her neighbor, Lawrence Tigue, is stealing their precious eggs from the many bird houses she has built in the woods. She retaliates by helping herself to some of the eggs in his chicken house. She and Lilly cross paths on their nocturnal forays and combine their resources to figure out some very strange puzzles.
Thomas Lamb is highly-intelligent, calm and resourceful. He solves this complex mystery using basic police work, common sense, and intuition. One might see him as the DCI Foyle of Hampshire, with all of Foyle’s good qualities, old-fashioned policing methods, and likeability. Lamb’s daughter Vera brings to mind Foyle’s driver and sounding board Samantha. While there are these superficial similarities, Lamb and his village are unique. Fans of the one series will be fans of the other.
Winstead is a picture-perfect village in a picture-perfect setting. The mystery is well-plotted, with plenty of twists and turns and surprises. The characters, however, are what make this an outstanding traditional mystery. They are realistic, believable, and three-dimensional, each with their own story to tell. The first novel in this series, THE LANGUAGE OF THE DEAD, won high praise from several highly regarded publications, including Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. I look forward to the next Inspector Lamb book, and hope for many to come.
* German word (literal translation: harm-joy) meaning pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.
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