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Hardcastle's Quandary: Hardcastle Mystery 15 (A Hardcastle mystery) Hardcover – 28 Dec 2018
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About the Author
During Graham Ison's thirty-year career in Scotland Yard's Special Branch he was involved in several espionage cases. He also spent four years at 10 Downing Street as Protection Officer to two Prime Ministers. He is an honorary agent of the US Army Criminal Investigation Command.
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Hardcastle himself was too old to serve in the war, but for his younger colleagues who knew the Western Front, body parts hold few terrors. The human remains found in the burnt-out premises in Surrey are examined by none other than Sir Bernard Spilsbury and his findings complicate Hardcastle’s case. Is the first body that of Guy Stoner, or is it that of his business partner? And who was the young woman whose butchered remains shared the same ignominious burial place?
Forced to play cherchez-la-femme, the detectives stumble down one blind alley after another, but as they do so they learn a few home truths about the fate of the young men who went to fight in the war-to-end-all-wars, and returned home to find that their birthplace was not the ‘land fit for heroes’ glibly promised by politicians. There is a peacetime army with no place for young officers whose courage was welcome in the trenches, but whose humble upbringing is now seen as an embarrassment as the cigars are lit, and the port passed in the correct direction at mess dinners. Such young men, not all heroes, but men nevertheless, are forced to find civilian employment which is neither honest, decent nor lawful.
Eventually, after an investigation which takes the detectives on many a trip into the provinces and away from their metropolitan stamping grounds, the case is solved, and there is work for the hangman to do, but not before an intervention by the Home Secretary’
Graham Ison is a master story-teller. The Hardcastle books contain no literary flourishes or stylistic tricks – just credible characters, excellent period detail and an engaging plot. Cosy? Perhaps, in the sense that we know how Hardcastle and his officers are going to react to any given situation, and their habits and small prejudices remain unchanged. Comfortable? Only because novels don’t always need to shock or challenge; neither do they always benefit from graphic descriptions of the damage humans can sometimes inflict on one another. Ison credits his readers with having imaginations; he never gilded the lily of English life in the earlier Hardcastle cases which took place during The Great War, and he doesn’t start now, nearly a decade after the final shots were fired. The suffering and trauma of those four terrible years didn’t end at the eleventh hour on that eleventh day; they cast a long and sometimes baleful shadow which frames much of the action of this novel.
Hardcastle’s Quandary is a great read. As well as being a fascinating period police procedural, it is a gently reflective but sharply observant look at England in the 1920s. We sense that Hardcastle, deeply conservative and instinctively opposed to the steady advance of technology, has entered his autumn period. Colleagues like Marriott and Catto tolerate his idiosyncracies and work around the fact that he sometimes appears to be a creature from a bygone age, preserved in his own block of amber. Hardcastle’s quandary? That is for the reader to judge, and it may only be resolved in the final pages.
If you've been following along with the DDI Ernest Hardcastle novels, this might be/should be book #15 in the series based on publication date. Book #14, Hardcastle's Runaway, was published in June of 2017 and covered a period in 1919. This book will be published in March 2019, but jumps ahead to March 1927 in the novel. Now, that's a lot of time to just breeze over during this very important period of English history. I'm just wondering if I missed a book or more somewhere because there is so much talk from Hardcastle about the pending promotion of Detective Sergeant Charles Marriott to the rank of detective inspector and I don't remember that topic specifically from book #14. There is also a whole lot of mention made about whether or not Hardcastle should retire or even whether his men think he needs to retire. The book ends without a resolution to that, but the door certainly is open for fond looks back by Hardcastle to old cases.
This specific story was kind of disjointed and didn't flow very well because of all the trips Hardcastle's team members made back and forth to the crime scene (outside London) and interviewing witnesses. Hardcastle must have spent a bundle on taxi fare! For some reason the horrible forensic methods used in uncovering this crime really bothered me. Granted, methods of detection and investigation were extremely limited even in 1927, but the cavalier way the police handled dismembered body parts almost made me want to stop reading the book. So this wasn't a very successful novel for me between the crabbing and complaining by Hardcastle about anybody and everybody and everybody crabbing and complaining about Hardcastle plus the general feeling that the crime that took place wasn't handled by the author in a very sensitive way. Maybe I just need to take a rest away from the series for a bit. Hardcastle is a character who is hard for me to like under the best of circumstances. In this story he was just a plain old pain in the behind!