Hurrah! The summer’s here so it’s jolly boating weather, chaps! And for the ladies, there’s always the possibility of swimming naked in the Thames. That’s what Harriet Shaw is doing when she spots three men (and a fox terrier) in a boat acting vaguely suspiciously, but as she’s busy trying not to drown, she doesn’t get the best of looks at them. Luckily she is rescued by young Constable Hardy who manages to help her sneak back into Elfrida College for the Training of Female Elementary Teachers with her dignity intact.
Soon, her skinny-dipping antics are exposed as she is needed as a witness – a tramp has been found murdered, floating in the river with a dog-bite on his leg. Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackerey are soon in pursuit of the three men in a boat, who seem to be following the plot of… um, Three Men In A Boat, with Constable Hardy and Harriet in tow. But soon a second body is floating in the river…
I loved two of the Cribb books that I’ve read previously, Wobble To Death and A Case Of Spirits, and when Curtis recently reviewed this one, I thought I’d take a look too. I’m trying to read something by most of the guests at the upcoming Alibis In The Archive conference that I’m going to, so this certainly ticks the box next to Peter Lovesey’s name.
It’s an absolutely charming period piece, full of wit, that keeps the reader engrossed throughout. There’s a strong what’s-going-on plot throughout this one, and while certain aspects of the plot are somewhat guessable, there’s enough going on that I doubt anyone will have everything figured out, despite everything being clued.
Moreover, a good chunk of the tale takes place at Merton College, part of Oxford University, which naturally elevates this by several steps, as it’s a well-known fact that this is the finest educational establishment in existence (not that I’m remotely biased about my college). And it’s got one or two unsubtle comments about studying Geography – which is factually correct for late nineteenth century Oxford, but it’s funny, nonetheless. You might have to be a teacher of something other than Geography to laugh at it, but it worked for me.
Anyway, this is a lot of fun, a proper detective story that does a good job with a small circle of characters and Cribb, Thackerey, Hardy and Harriet are a charming set of characters to follow. Highly Recommended.