You have probably read hundreds of books that use these ever-fresh ingredients. There is one small English village, peopled by eccentric collectors, partner-swapping couples, and a class system in microcosm, housing well-disguised deviants who write poison pen letters, carry guilty secrets, or devise well-planned murders.
Caroline Graham is a current dealer in these items, and I reckon she turns them into as good an entertainment as any writer, past or present, I know. Her own experience in the theatre provides the amazing verisimilitude in this, her second crime novel. The murder occurs during the opening night of an amateur production of “Amadeus”.
Older readers will recall how New Zealand writer Ngaio Marsh used the theatre for some of her murder mystery settings. Miss Graham is a much better writer. Rarely in detective fiction will you find such depth and variety of character drawing, and such charming and elegant prose.
Her sleuth is Chief Inspector Barnaby and his assistant is Sergeant Troy. As created by Caroline Graham, they are considerably different from their television depictions in a popular series “Midsomer Murders” that has already run to more than twenty episodes.
on 24 January 2003
This is Caroline Graham at her very best, and her best is very very good indeed. She stirs the most gorgeous ingredients in the most skilful manner possible, cooks them with relish and serves it with luscious sauce. This is the detective story Dickens would have written if he had been alive today. Her characters her action and her pace are always superb but this in my opinion is her best book. Did you ever read Paying Guests by Benson? well Hollow man is Paying Guests with heart and action.
The local amateur dramatic group is rehearsing for Peter Shaffer's Amadeus and Joyce Barnaby, wife of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, has a small part in the production along with being wardrobe mistress. Her husband is helping with painting the scenery. But relations between the actors are not all they might be and Harold Winstanley, the director, is putting people's backs up and is as usual very full of himself. Tensions rise as the first night approaches leading to a headline performance though not for the reasons which might have satisfied Harold's dream of the lime light.
Tom Barnaby finds himself with a difficult case of murder to investigate. He knows all the suspects and the victim and at first thinks this may give him an advantage but he soon realises it just complicates the issue and he can't see people as they really are. I found this book absorbing reading because the plotting is excellent and the characters well drawn. I found the motivations convincing and the whole thing kept me guessing until almost the end. I worked out who had done it bit not how or why.
This is the second book in the author's Tom Barnaby series and it is even better than the first, in my opinion. I enjoy the touches of humour and the love hate relationship between Barnaby and his sidekick DS Troy with his overt prejudices and off colour jokes. I like the small town background where many things appear to be out in the open and yet it is all too easy for people to misinterpret things they have seen and people they know. I recommend this series if you like your crime novels in the classic mould with not too much on the page violence and bad language.
on 11 March 2011
Caroline Graham is the natural successor to Agatha Christie and a sheer joy to read. She provides such excellent characterization and cleverly invites the reader to relate and approve of each member of the dramatis personae or to dislike and reject them. How nice it is when a victim is someone you dislike and even better when the murderer turns out to be someone equally offensive.
Sergeant Troy appears almost villainous in the books and makes a good foil to Barnaby who is cultured, just, experienced and intelligent. Pitting opposites against each other with the accompanying juicy conversational pieces is one of Caroline Graham's trademarks.
The setting is an amateur theatre where the people are naturally part of an hierarchy. The cauldron of ambition, resentment, class, betrayal and impropriety simply boils until the most deserving is struck down. And let's face it, that person had it coming. An unusual way to die and perhaps the mode of death is the only thing that stretches credulity. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff, sifting and filtering and connecting the facts is part of the pleasure for the detective fiction reader and facts come furiously from the pen of this deft author. A happy and most satisfactory ending is enjoyed as all concerned get their Just Deserts (spelled correctly). Just as it should be. A cracking read.
on 1 July 2001
This particular Graham novel illustrates clearly her competance as a novelist. The scene is set superbly as soon as you open the book, and continues to be both real and interesting throughout. Well thought out character sketches, and indeed the characters themselves are often humourous and always believable. Yet, this is the sort of thing I've come to expect from Graham. If there is a more underrated author you'd have to get up pretty early to find one.
"Death of a Hollow Man" shows off author Caroline Graham's wit and snarky sense of humor at their clever best. This being the second of the Inspector Barnaby series, the wise village cop and his semi-clueless sidekick, Sergeant Troy, are part and parcel of the plot as Barnaby moonlights with a local theater production to help out his sometime-thespian wife Joyce. This episode also puts the focus on Barnaby's daughter Cully, another aspiring actor, who provides an ascerbic commentary on the local production of "Amadeus" and meets the man who will star in her own future.
No need to get into plot details other than to observe that the crime that is central to the story (an onstage killing), is secondary to the interaction of wonderful characters that author Graham has assembled here. Drawing on her own experience in the theater, she constructs some terrific dialogues between her string of aspiring actors, theater staffers and secondary characters that provide chuckles and out-and-out belly laughs.
This is a very entertaining little book that is best read straight through in a sitting. Recommended.
on 13 July 2013
Some books can be so laboured that when reading Caroline Graham you actually remember that a talented author can make reading absolutely effortless. And you also forget that writing is a difficult thing to do. Her words seem to spring so naturally, her sentences run with such ease that you don't see the work she must have put in. Her story just flows on and on and the rhythm is so smooth that we can go on reading forever. She really has an uncanny grasp of what will make her characters just right on the page and a great ear for dialogue.' Death of a hollow man' was so good that I then plunged straight on into 'The killings at Badger's drift' which is just as excellent.