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The Dulwich Detective
Aug 07, 2022 09:03 AM 290 Views
(Updated Aug 17, 2022 02:02 PM)

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The problem being a diehard Christie fan is that I tend to compare every murder mystery novel with that of the dame. Alas! I seldom find one which matches her( detective's) analytical acumen and deducing prowess. I am sorry to say this in the preface itself before proceeding to talk about my intro with Alice Castle's clever sleuth Beth Haldane of Dulwich Village.


Alice tries hard to create the rural backdrop of English countryside. But this is not the laidback, sleepy St. Mary Meade of Ms. Marple. In Dulwich the mothers are kyoiku mamas hell bent upon competing with each other in so far as their children's academia is concerned. Their offspring's entry into Wyatts, the poshest educational institute of the village, is every mother's ultimate ambition. The institute is famous for churning out notable alumni.


Beth Haldane is a single parent of a boundlessly energetic son, Jake, around whom her life pivots. She is obsessively cleanliness and routine conscious. A systematic eliminator of junk( I see a glimpse of Poirot here) . Her forte is research( Another very sleuth-ish component) . To foot the monthly bills she is in need of a steady source of income in addition to her freelancing jobs. Her appointment as the assistant archivist in Wyatt comes as an overwhelming tiding of a worthy beginning of a promising career.


But her first day turns out to be more than dooms day when Dr. Jenkins, the head archivist, whom she is supposed to report and whom she comes to hate at first sight, is found murdered in the school backyard amidst the bins. Beth's first reaction is to save her own skin as she is the one who first discovers the body, which unfortunately and customarily, makes her a prime suspect. Her only target now is to clear her name not only for her own self but for the sake of Jake whom she wants to shelter from all evil and bad name.


Necessity is the mother of all inventions. So Beth tries all tricks of the trade, smart or lame, to dig out more about the lecherous Dr. Jenkins( yes, he has many qualities of a potential/actual murder victim) to uncover the motive behind his murder. In doing so she not only endangers her own life but also brings the murderer closer home and unintendingly very near to Jake. But she is Beth Haldane - clever, courageous with a Shetland-pony-like-strength-and-hardiness-coupled-with-an-untamed-fringe and an uncanny knack for "poking her nose" into matters from which she should ideally keep herself at a safe distance. That is what Inspector Harry York reminds her again and again to her great annoyance. He is also very reticent about divulging information and updating her about the latest police findings on the matter which does not help Beth any further.


So Beth has to do it on her own. Is it just because she is incriminated in some way? No, because she gets a kick out of it, whether she admits it or not. In doing so, she dishevels the prim and snooty Dulwich life.


Alice Castle does a very good job of contemporizing the backdrop - Dulwich is not the rustic backwater where people retire after a hectic career in the city to have a sedentary time table of long walks, leisure gardening, evening gossips and early bedtime. The South London suburbia is a modern hub of aggressive parenting and rat race of grooming children into the future who's who. The zeitgeist of elitist high flying of the uber-rich insurgently robbing the English countryside of its quintessential charm of unexciting and dull ethos.


Christie set her stories in times which she was part of. Yet, those are timeless period pieces showcasing the follies and fickleness of human psyche, villainy germinating from intrinsic vulnerability and vanity of human species which segregate them as the most intelligent and at the same time the most dangerous animals.


Alice Castle is not comparable with Christie.( In fact, such comparisons are fruitless and inappropriate) . The flow of her narrative can keep readers hooked. Its a cozy mystery which is more of a coming-of-age genre. The who and why of the crime kept me going but the final denouement did not come as a great shocker. In the process of identifying the culprit Beth opens up another Pandora's box which kind of leads to a parallel trail but however ends in Beth's favour.


It will be wrong to conclude that I will not be on the lookout for subsequent Beth Haldane Mysteries. All said and done, it was an interesting and enjoyable read and I will not hesitate to recommend it to those who love a cozy bedtime read before going off to sleep wondering what's going on in Beth's mind and how will she unearth the perp at the end.


Thanks again to Rekha of Book Decoder fame for the maiden review of this book which undoubtedly tickled my curiosity.


This is my honest opinion about the book and anyone who does not agree with it is free to her differences.


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