Screenwriter Scott’s debut novel welcomes an Oxford don home from World War II with the spectacle of a colleague disliked by him and everyone else dead beneath his best friend’s lodgings.
You’d think you couldn’t get much further from the ravages of war than Barnard College at Oxford, where Duncan Forrester has returned in 1946 as junior research fellow in archaeology. But some things haven’t changed, like Forrester’s infatuation with Margaret Clark, the beautiful librarian married to his old friend Gordon. Enmities can run equally deep even when they’re not fueled by national divisions, as Forrester realizes when Gordon tells him that Margaret’s taken up with shallow, ambitious David Lyall, who holds the Priestley Latin Fellowship. And despite the smaller scale, the college proves home to its own violent outburst when David is found stabbed to death beneath Gordon’s window, through which he seems to have been ejected with force. DI Alec Barber, of the Oxford Constabulary, wastes no time arresting Gordon, and Forrester, his logical counterarguments having no more effect than his emotional testimonials on behalf of his friend, realizes that the only way he can save Gordon is to prove who really did kill his rival. The trail of clues leads surprisingly from Barnard to Germany and Norway, where Forrester seeks the truth of David’s wartime service as a commando who was betrayed to the Nazis and more information about his claims to have discovered a unique Old Norse manuscript. These trips provide more scenery and romance than enlightenment; it’s not till Forrester is back in Oxford that a casual observation directs him to the truth.
The culprit is forgettable; the murder method, ingenious but wildly implausible; and the parade of real-life cameos, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Ian Fleming, increasingly tiresome. Even so, Forrester is excellent company, and fans will surely want to read his further adventures.