I’m not a regular reader of crime fiction and would probably not have strayed from my usual beat of Ian Rankin and Agatha Christie had Caroline Graham’s books not been dramatised as the highly successful series Midsomer Murders. Watching a repeat of an early episode prompted me to pick up the source material from the library.
The book starts with a missing person. Simone Hollingsworth, wife of a local businessman, disappears from their home in Fawcett Green. Her vanishing act causes her husband to lock himself in the house and hit the bottle, although he doesn’t go so far as to call the police and tell them his wife has gone. The vicar, dropping by to ask why she has missed bell ringing practice, notices that he’s in a bit of a state:
“Now Alan,” said the vicar, “If I may call you that?” His kindly glance was momentarily distracted by the sight of a splendid silver tray holding two cut-glass decanters and several bottles including a Jack Daniel’s, nearly full, and a Bushmills, half empty. There was no way, on his stipend, the vicar could afford either of these splendid beverages. He heaved himself upright again saying, “You look as if you could do with a drink...”
Obviously Hollingsworth thinks so to and very quickly reports come back that he’s living off microwave food and whiskey:
Later, further verification of Alan Hollingsworth’s debauched state was provided when a stream of bottles descended from his wheelie bin into the masticating maw of Causton Borough Council’s refuse lorry. Avis Jennings said it sounded as if someone was disposing of a greenhouse. The vicar, put in the picture by his spouse, thought of all that Jack Daniel’s consumed in lonely isolation and wondered if he should once more attempt to offer solace.
Eventually the local plod are asked to check on him, and more importantly, Simone. Hollingsworth opens the door to the village bobby:
“You’re plainly not very well, sir.” “I’m pissed, you stupid idiot...” Hollingsworth picked up the nearest bottle, which was uncapped, poured a stream of liquid into a smeary tumbler and sloshed it down.
It’s soon after this that Causton CID are involved and the book’s hero, Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby is on the scene. Though when they get to the house it’s a little too late for Hollingsworth:
A man was lying on a brightly coloured rug in front of an empty fireplace. Barnaby crossed quickly over and knelt beside him. Troy stood on the threshold, his fastidious nature affronted by the mixture of stale offensive odours about the place, not least of which came from the pool of urine beneath the recumbent figure. Troy noticed a tumbler lying on its side a short distance from the man’s right hand.
It’s clear to the DCI that foul play is afoot:
...Barnaby felt certain that Alan Hollingsworth had not succumbed to a stroke or heart attack. Or alcohol poisoning even though, according to Perrot, he’d been lowering gallons of the stuff for days.
When Polaroids of Simone appear showing that she’s been abducted, the plot thickens... It’s great stuff and frequently very funny, but having been spoiled by over a decade of John Nettles chewing scenery, I’m having trouble adjusting to Graham’s original creation.