Templeton, Aline - 'Cradle to Grave'
This is the sixth in a series of books featuring DI Marjory Fleming, who is just returning to work after a period of suspension for a possible lapse of judgement. It's important for her to make a fresh start but it's not long before she is launched into a difficult murder investigation, and not only that but she has to deal with difficulties in her team, and an old boyfriend who suddenly reappears after 20 years.
The two main threads of the book lead off with the problems of a rich landowner, Giles Crozier, a local lad who made a lot of money in the pop business, and a seemingly unconnected story of a young girl, Beth, who was recently acquitted of killing a baby. At the start of the book, during an evening walk, Beth narrowly escapes a cliff collapse onto Rosscarron cottages, where she'd been staying. She'd recently inherited one of the cottages from her grandmother Kendra, and she had apparently moved there to find some peace and quiet, after she'd been vilified in the press, and threatened by the family. Although she'd been acquitted, the press had decided she was responsible for the death of a three-month-old girl, who'd been left outside to freeze to death while she'd been babysitting for the Ryan family. To escape attention, she has adopted the new identity of Beth Brown, and is trying to keep a low profile. Her boyfriend Lee moved to the cottage with her, but she'd had an argument with him and he'd left just before the cliff collapsed. After witnessing the collapse, she finds refuge at the Keeper's cottage on the Rosscarron estate, where Alick Buchan and his family live.
The following morning Alick reports the rock fall to Giles Crozier, who is the owner of the estate. Giles and Alick take a boat out to reach the cottages, to find out what damage has occurred. While they discover that most of the residents are unhurt, they discover a body in Beth's cottage, and have to call in the police to investigate.
Meanwhile, Margery turns up for her first day back at work, to her usual team of DS Tam MacNee, Andy Macdonald, Ewan Campbell, and a newcomer, DC Kim Kershaw. However, Tam MacNee is obviously under some kind of strain, and there is friction between him and Kim, making an uneasy start back for Marjory. She decides to take him with her to visit Giles Crozier on the Rosscarron estate. Giles is about to run a pop festival there, and has been complaining to the police about vandalism, which is potentially linked to protests from the local residents. Not only that but as a result of persistent rain, the nearby executive homes have been flooded, and the bridge over the river between the estate and the headland could be in danger of collapse, particularly if large numbers of people flock to the festival.
When Tam and Margery arrive at Rosscarron house, Crozier thinks they have come to find out more about what's happened at the cottages, but as they haven't been informed due to lack of mobile reception, Margery knows nothing about it. Not only that but the phone lines are down at Rosscarron house, so she is unable to contact the station to find out what is happening. So she has to change plans, and head off to the cottages via a quick visit to the campsite where people will be staying for the festival. But as they drive onto the bridge on the way to the cottages, the bridge collapses, the car dives into the water, and Margery is knocked unconscious. Tam has to pull his boss out of the car, and wait for someone to come and rescue them, leading to an unplanned overnight stay at Rosscarron house, with no access to phones. It later turns out that the bridge had been sabotaged, but for what reason?
The next morning, another body is discovered near the campsite, and this time it is Giles Crozier who has been killed. This now means two bodies to investigate (and more to come). Why has Giles been killed, and who is the dead man in the cottage? The connections between Beth and the Crozier family gradually become apparent. Is Beth somehow involved in Giles' death? Or is his death due somehow to shady business dealings he might be involved in?
The plot of the novel is complex, and has to pull together many different threads, which it does successfully. Margery is a complex character struggling to deal with a difficult situation, her return to work after her suspension, tensions among her staff, the embarrassment of having to deal with an old boyfriend, and her escape from a nasty accident which could have proved fatal without the quick thinking of her DS. After a shaky start, she gets into her stride and gradually determines whom the real culprits are, leading to a tense ending where once again, her life is threatened. However, it does seem at times that Margery doesn't seem much in control of events, as she should be as detective inspector. Beth (Lisa) is a rather ignorant, and scared young woman, for whom it's difficult to feel as much sympathy as she perhaps merits. She is the type of character one wants to pick up and shake to try to make her a bit more sensible. The Crozier family as a whole are dysfunctional, with Cara addicted to drugs, Declan potentially a dealer and Nico a child with attention deficit disorder (probably mostly arising from the fact that he doesn't get any attention from his parents). It's also rather surprising that the police don't spend more time investigating the family after Giles is murdered, as people close to the victim are the most likely to have committed the murder, and some of the plot lines are just a bit too convenient. However, while I have mixed views about this novel, and can't recommend it wholeheartedly, on balance it's entertaining enough and worth a read.
Read another review of CRADLE TO GRAVE.
Michelle Peckham, England