In Dunning’s debut novel, a woman’s suspicious death in a Kentish country home brings together an assemblage of London and local police with the residents of the subdivided house.
Detective Superintendent Charles Blower, a venerable member of London’s Metropolitan Police, becomes involved in an investigation at Benfield House when a woman is discovered dead in one of the flats. He is induced to investigate the supposedly accidental death by his good friend Alex Pike, a friend of the flat’s absent owner. The caretaker’s far-fetched explanation for the woman’s death—that it was an inadvertent piercing while she sat under a window that spontaneously shattered—makes Blower and Pike wary of the caretaker, an annoying Cockney named Albert Drew. Superintendent Blower and company must first determine the woman’s identity and then the reason for her ill-fated visit. Next, he must find out which of the many colorful denizens of Benfield House, her family or her associates might have had a motive to kill her. Although murder is extremely unusual in the quaint Kentish town, burglaries have become commonplace, and Benfield House is the site of one amid Blower’s investigation. Eventually, all the culprits are apprehended and arrested, but not before hundreds of cups of tea have been prepared and served, along with endless customary English meals. Very little action fills the spaces between the “cuppas” and comestibles, though much is left to tin-eared dialogue, including the transliterated Cockney of Mr. Drew: “[Y]eah, ’es the bloke what’s ’avin’ it off wiv ’er in number four ain’ ’e.” Adding to the difficulty deciphering the dialect is the author’s sporadic use of simple punctuation, commas especially. This leads to many confusing sentences: “Conspiracy to murder Thomas?” or “We’ll shout darling if anything really startling comes up.” The sophistication of the crime fighters strains credulity when the issue of acquiring mobile phones for members of the force is brought up at least 10 times; a training session is held to familiarize officers with “this amazing device, which, I’m prepared to bet, will revolutionize communications and crime solving in the next ten years or so.”
An engaging detective gets support from neither other characters nor the plot in this laborious outing.