This latest sardonic fable from the prolific Ashford (The Cost of Innocence, 1999, etc.) jumps from Freetown to Fretstone to link two unlikely heroes: masterful Esme Lynch, who’s smuggling stolen diamonds from Sierra Leone, and hapless ad writer Dick Frayne, who’s married for money and is now paying the price. When Carol Fowler, the mule who’s bringing the stones back to England in her alimentary canal, is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Lynch seethes in frustration while her corpse rests indefinitely in the Fretstone morgue only a few yards from the police station. She won’t be released for burial until Inspector Howes and Sergeant Blundell have closed the case. But that’ll never happen, because Dick’s wife Portia, who was driving the car that killed her, has stonewalled and threatened her husband with ruin if he doesn’t back up her unconvincing (but undisprovable) denials. As the Fraynes team up for the first time in years to fend off the police inquiry, Lynch is plotting ever more desperate ways to bring it to a swift and decisive end. The resulting complications, highly predictable in outline, are deeply satisfying in execution, with an especially handsome role for Dick’s not-quite-lover Francesca Price.
After a slow start—only a dozen fatalities in the first 30 pages—Ashford gradually tightens the screws till you can feel your own blood pounding. A perfect evening’s entertainment.