My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Lover of the Grave is the third entry in Andrew Taylor’s Lydmouth series, in which he chronicles the incidence of crime in a 1950’s English village. Everyone knows everyone, and class, propriety and respectability are still highly valued. The lives of the villagers are, of course, influenced profoundly by their mores, and when crimes occur, there’s usually a carefully hidden secret that lies beneath. It’s up to Inspector Richard Thornhill to dig that secret up.
Near Lydmouth stands an ancient oak, renowned as a place of execution and suicide. Now, during a particularly cold winter, the body of a local teacher is found hanging from it, and Thornhill instantly suspects that he did not kill himself. The regional journalist, Jill Francis, naturally wants to write about the sensational story. She and Thornhill, who is married with children, have been strongly attracted to each other ever since Jill first came to town. The plot of this novel plays out on two levels, the murder mystery and the undeniable sexual pull that complicates the relationship between cop and reporter. To complicate matters, a peeping tom is drilling spy holes in the local ladies’ convenience, lurking at the windows of hotel guests, and following Jill home.
The Lover of the Grave is a moderately paced, atmospheric mystery, with a host of well-drawn characters and full of local color. Though not as suspenseful as the earlier two novels in the series, it packs enough action, and perhaps more interestingly, psychological elements, to make it well worthwhile. The sudden denouement, on both the personal and professional levels, leaves the readers eager to pick up the next volume.