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by Frank Smith

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20771-9
Publisher: St. Martin's

Fortyish Beth Smallwood, widowed mother of good-for-nothing, drug-addict son Lenny, lives hand to mouth in a cottage in Shropshire, taking the bus every day to her bank job. She has lied in court to protect her son, has stolen money from the bank for him, and, in light of threats against his life by a gang he owes money to, reluctantly plans to steal more. Then, however, she’s unexpectedly offered a promotion by boss Arthur Gresham, married but faithless, bypassing a furious, more experienced Harry Beecham—the price: an abusive sex session in Gresham’s office, noted by secretary Rachel Fairmont, of whom Gresham has tired. That evening Beth is asked by the vicar of St. Justin’s Church, where she’s a volunteer, to prepare some candles for a next-day wedding. It’s there she’s found, dead of a blow to the head, by Detective Chief Inspector Neil Paget (Stone Dead, 1998, etc.), who was alerted by an anonymous phone call. Paget and his Detective Sergeant John Tregallis painstakingly interview the bank staff and all of Beth’s neighbors and acquaintances (Lenny is near death in a hospital, beaten to a pulp by his drug supplier), finally uncovering the convoluted motive and an unlikely killer. Paget’s persona is as attractive as ever, but all the salient points in the case are covered and monotonously re-covered, lessening crispness and pace. Still, a solid performance even so, and another boon to lovers of the British police procedural.