STIFF NEWS by Catherine Aird


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Strange things are happening at the Almstone Nursing Home for retired military officers and their wives in the town of February, the turf of Detective Inspector C.D. Sloan, his Superintendent Leeyes, and his Detective Constable Crosby (After Effects, 1996, etc.). Aged and ailing Gertrude Powell has died at the Home, but she’s left behind a letter to her son Lionel claiming to have been a murder victim. It seems, too, that correspondence is missing from her room, but Medical Examiner Dabbe’s autopsy fails to produce anything suspicious. Meanwhile, Sloan’s persistent questioning at the Home reveals a surprising number of deaths—more than even this setting would warrant; a common war background in North Africa among the male patients; something called an Escape Committee, and something else named the Almstone Pragmatic Sanction, a title evoking euthanasia. A Scottish dagger, an Egyptian amulet and the disappearance of new patient Morag McBeath make for further complications, but finally (as Sloan eventually discovers) what holds the key to Almstone’s troubles are a few long-hidden secrets. What might have been an intriguing story gets buried in a stream of clichÇd quotes, tedious asides, and a meandering, unfocused narration that produces little suspense and a pancake-flat finale. Disappointing stuff from a usually reliable veteran.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20023-4
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998


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