Stacey, Lyndon - 'Time to Pay'
When his riding companion is felled by a sniper's bullet whilst riding out one morning, Gideon Blake - artist, horse whisperer and reluctant amateur sleuth - finds himself drawn into a murder investigation after a cryptic list of numbers and initials found in the dead man's effects suggests a blackmail plot.
Set in rural Dorset, TIME TO PAY reads like a James Herriot redraft of an Agatha Christie mystery. Lyndon Stacey provides a beautifully detailed backdrop to a lovingly created world of stables, drag hunts and all things horsey, while also crafting a twisting plot that encompasses a host of characters both noble and squalid.
Despite the murder, blackmail and occasional violence, however, this is an old-fashioned tale that generally steers clear of the more gruesome tropes of modern crime novels. Gideon - tall and urbane, mild-mannered and multi-talented - may be too perfect a main protagonist for some readers, his lack of inner conflict making him rather bland even as he delves ever deeper into the murky world of rural crime, but he is a throwback to a traditional kind of reflexive British hero, the kind who does what needs to be done first and only wallows in self-analysis afterwards - if then.
There are two major caveats, however: the first is that villain of the piece is too easily identified, mainly because of his boorish behaviour, while the second is that Stacey is guilty of overwriting to a degree that can become irritating to the careful reader - following a conjunction with a comma is acceptable one or twice in a novel, if the circumstances demand it, but three times in the space of one page is unforgivable. Otherwise, this is a nicely paced, gentle thriller that will provide fans of the more cosy variety of crime fiction with an enjoyable read.NB. This book was first published with the title SIX TO ONE AGAINST.
Declan Burke, Ireland