Top positive review
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sharply funny without trivialising the crime
on 18 May 2006
This is the fourth of the novels about Joe Sixsmith, a redundant lathe operator turned private eye from Luton. The chapel choir that Joe sings in is on its way to Wales for a choral festival. Things get off to a fine start when the bus first gets lost on the way, and then breaks down in the middle of nowhere.The last incident to mar the journey is a good deal more serious, as they come across a burning cottage with a woman trapped inside. Joe goes to the rescue, saving the woman but putting himself in hospital for a few hours, and putting himself out of the choral competition with the tenporary throat damage from smoke inhalation. That leaves him with plenty of time to investigate the fire, which at first glance looks like an anti-English arson attack that went further than intended. But his digging gradually turns up evidence of other crimes, some petty and others very serious indeed.
As always with Reginald Hill's novels, this book is both a gripping mystery and a beautifully written piece of prose. Joe is an entertaining character, and the book is very funny without ever trivialising the crime that lies at the heart of the case. The cast of characters is well developed, and there's a nice exploration of the way middle and upper-class criminals can cover their tracks by exploiting the willingness of others to do a little favour for a friend.
Hill's series books build a continuing universe, with his characters developing as a results of events in previous books, and later books often refer back to early books in the series. This one is no exception, but there's enough backstory worked in that you don't need to have read the earlier books in the series first--at the time of writing this is the only Sixsmith novel I've read, and I had no trouble following the references to the backstory.