Two brothers work distinctly at cross-purposes to solve the murder of a York artist in journalist Cole’s latest (The Amateur Historian, 2010).
When painter Jane F. Wragge is bashed to death and her live-in companion Moses Mundy does a runner, DCI Sam Rounder naturally assumes that Moses is the killer, even though Jane’s diary, which he accidentally finds and inexplicably keeps to himself, is one long love letter to Moses. Meanwhile, the absent lover is hardly idle; he’s hired Sam’s brother, private eye Rick Rounder, to gather evidence that he’s innocent—an engagement Rick demurely keeps from his brother. Neither rounder is much of a sleuth. Rick’s first assignment, poking around the lowlifes of South London for a lead about which former mate of Moses might have stitched him up for this job, nearly gets him killed. And the main effect of Sam’s immersion in Jane’s diary, which he continues to plow through as the murderous attacks continue, is to alienate him even further from his long-suffering wife Michelle. Not to be outdone, Rick ends up neglecting his partner Naomi as well. The distancing act isn’t restricted to the rounders and their women, either. Except for Rick and the late Jane, Cole seems determined to keep most of his characters, especially Jane’s gallery of former lovers, at arm’s length from his readers. That’s a shame, because although the mystery is thin and anticlimactic, he has a fine sense of the magical power of landscapes, the fragility of loving relationships and the terrifying ease with which naughty fantasies slip over the edge into nightmares.
An offbeat novel from a promising author who hasn’t quite found his niche.