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British Mysteries

Dead Before Morning, Geraldine Evans, Worldwide, used, $3.50.

(check for used copies at our ABE store).

"Surely, he demanded of his reflection in the hall mirror, a hangover, a murder and his mother all in one morning were more than any man could be expected to cope with?"

I read online that Geraldine Evans admired the humor in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Bill Slider mysteries (an out of print favorite series of mine), and I couldn't agree with her more wholeheartedly. Like Harrod-Eagles, Evans' humor is of the drier British variety than the more rude up front American kind, but I find both appealing, and in Evan's case it seriously added to my enjoyment of her book. I'm mystified that these books haven't found a wider audience over here as they are well written with stand out central characters and clever plots.

Evans' main characters, the working class Rafferty and the more staid, well educated Llewellyn make a good and interesting team. In Dead Before Morning they are learning the art of working together - trying to figure out each other's strong points while not driving each other completely around the bend. They case they are on takes place on the well manicured grounds of the local mental hospital - a prostitute is found on the grounds with her face completely smashed in, making identification difficult. There's a shortage of people willing to talk - the hospital is a tightly contained world, turning on the axis of its founder and director, Dr. Anthony Melville-Briggs. Melville-Briggs is as stuffy and egocentric as his name might indicate, and Rafferty practically hates him on sight, while the more moderate Llewellyn constantly urges him to consider other suspects. Melville-Briggs, after all, is friends with the Chief Constable.

Added to Rafferty's headaches are the troubles of his cousin's dim fiancÚ, "Jailhouse Jack, the world's most incompetent criminal". The troubles with Jack are pretty funny and actually help Rafferty out with a lead in a seemingly uncrackable case. Of course, one lead eventually leads to another, and the breaks start to happen. This is a solid work of police procedure enlivened with strong characters and a solid plot - if you're a fan of the modern brutish mystery, it's worth rooting around on our used book shelf to find an Evans title.

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