Two murders, separated by half a century but ghastly in exactly the same way, preoccupy an ex–police inspector insufficiently occupied.
Born to sleuth, retired West Midlands policeman John Latymer just can’t summon the requisite enthusiasm for his new job—shepherding American tourist flocks up and down Cotswold hills and dales in behalf of Beckett Literary Tours. He misses the fuzz buzz. “The hunt . . . the old adrenaline rush,” as his empathetic friend Keith Berry, himself a former copper, puts it. Both soon find themselves up to their noses in the case of gentleman farmer Lucas Symonds. Extremely dead (“billhook through the heart, pitchfork in his throat”), the handsome, well-regarded, well-to-do Symonds was discovered a stone’s throw from Meon’s Hill in Warwickshire. Why is that significant? Because in 1945, in that very locale, another unfortunate suffered death by billhook and pitchfork—a case never solved. Ritual murders, local newspapers now begin to speculate luridly, with witchcraft or satanic cults at their core. Latymer, half persuaded at first, delves deeper and encounters a complex web of human relations that spring from such all-too-mundane motivations as thwarted love, betrayal, and hatred.
Cook plots decently enough (Dead Ringer, p. 884, etc.), though her pastured protagonist could use some fire in his belly.