This is the sixth novel in Ian McFadyen’s popular series featuring DI Steve Carmichael. We pick up the story just a few days before Christmas, and rural Lancashire has been hit with weather conditions which may be delightfully seasonal for children counting down the sleeps until The Big Day, but for tired coppers trying to find a missing woman, the thick snow is just a hindrance.
Hayley Bell has not returned home after a night out with some lady friends, and husband Duncan is seriously concerned. Mr Bell is a disagreeably pompous fellow with some serious affectations, such as calling four rooms in his grand house after the seasons, and decorating them accordingly. Carmichael and his team, however, have no reason to suspect Duncan Bell – despite his unpleasant manner – of having anything to do with his wife’s disappearance.
CCTV footage from the railway station where Hayley Bell said goodbye to her friends on the fateful night sheds no light on the affair. In fact, the images pose a conundrum similar to a locked room mystery. Hayley Bell boarded the train, but apparently never left it. As Carmichael interviews the other members of Hayley Bell’s Reading Club, he begins to suspect that their activities may have involved something other than deciding upon the Book of The Month.
Meanwhile, chez Carmichael has been blessed with the arrival of his self-centred and ancient Aunt Audrey, but he secretly says a prayer to the gods when an astonishing development in the search for Hayley Bell – and a murder – enable him to get away from home and back to the relative sanity of the police station. The Aunt Audrey situation provides a gentle humorous counterpoint to the increasingly dark and sinister theme of the Hayley Bell disappearance.
Eventually, just as matters are being wrapped up, despite Carmichael’s misgivings that they are missing something crucial, a chance remark by the dreadful Audrey, after she has been earwigging on a private conversation between Carmichael and his wife, removes the scales from the Inspector’s eyes, and he recalls his team from their turkey sandwiches and games of Scrabble to bring about a dramatic solution to the case.
Detective Inspector-led police procedurals are two a penny in British crime fiction, so why did I enjoy this one so much? Firstly the book sticks to the three classical unities of action, place and – even if it is stretched beyond Aristotle’s recommended 24 hours – time. The whole thing is nicely wrapped up over the days immediately before and after Christmas. There is a pleasant old fashioned atmosphere about the story, even though it is obviously the present day, and even one of the murder weapons comes straight off the Cluedo board.
Lovers of serial killing, dismembered corpses, misanthropic coppers with shattered personal lives and a drink problem will have to look elsewhere for their entertainment. Those who like a good whodunnit with credible characters, a wintry atmosphere where the snow crackles beneath the feet and an ingenious plot should enjoy Death In Winter as much as I did. It’s published by The Book Guild, and is available in paperback and Kindle.