After I had read Death In Profile, and saw that it was billed as the first of an intended series, I did softly uttered something akin to “hmmmm…?”, quietly questioning if there was any room in the crowded contemporary crime fiction market for books which unashamedly borrowed tropes and mannerisms from books written seventy years ago. I have just finished A Death In The Night, the fourth in the series, and I am now a true believer, and devoted disciple. Guy Fraser-Sampson (left) has created a delightful repertory company of characters, and set them to work catching killers in the highly exclusive avenues and cul de sacs of London’s Hampstead.
Principally, we have a quartet of investigators. Chief Superintendent Simon Collison, Inspector Bob Metcalfe and Sergeant Karen Willis all work for the Metropolitan Police, while Dr Peter Collins is a psychologist and criminal profiler who acts as consultant to the Hampstead coppers. In the first three books, Metcalfe and Collins are jointly suitors of the radiant and ravishing Willis. This strange ménage à trois has now resolved itself, however; Collins has Willis to himself, and Metcalfe has a new object of his passion. (To read our review of an earlier book in the series, A Whiff of Cyanide, just click the link)
Naturally enough, this being a murder mystery, the examining pathologist discovers not only that Bowen was murdered by smothering, but she was also three months pregnant. Further investigations by Collison and colleagues uncover that Bowen was in a relationship – along with countless other bedazzled women – with a libidinous and charismatic QC, Simon Fuller. It seems that he and his wife have come to ‘an arrangement’. Mrs F has neither interest nor ability in the sexual side of marriage, so she is quite content to let Mr F seek his pleasures where he will, provided that he remains her husband, in a strictly social sense.
As Collison and Co. scrape away at the wall of lies and deflection which surrounds the truth about Bowen’s murder, they get the distinct feeling that as fast as they chip and chisel, someone else is busy repairing and replacing the brickwork. Of course, the killer is revealed in the end, but not before Fraser-Sampson puts his company through their paces. Collison is educated, urbane and thoroughly professional. Metcalfe is dogged, decent and determined. Willis belongs on the cover of Vogue, but is also blindingly intelligent, and a damn good copper. Collins? Well, he is an exercise in eccentricity. He is possessed of a mind which can think three or four steps ahead of less gifted people, but he does have his little moments. Such as when, in times of great stress, he imagines that he is Lord Peter Wimsey, and that Karen Willis is his Harriet Vane.
To borrow and adapt from Matthew chapter 7, verse 20, “Therefore by their tea-times ye shall know them..”, we are not surprised that Peter Collins serves up Earl Grey to accompany anchovy toast: we would expect nothing less of him. Without extending the metaphor too much beyond its breaking point, I can say that Fraser-Sampson’s writing is – just like Dr Peter’s four o’clock fare – elegantly presented, fragrant, but with a salty piquancy to add balance. I have become a great admirer of the Hampstead Murders series. They may be making a reverential nod in the direction of Christie, Sayers and Allingham et al, but they are beautifully written, cleverly plotted and, above all, superbly entertaining. After all, isn’t that why we open crime fiction books in the first place?
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