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Book Title: Written In Blood|
The author of the book: Caroline Graham
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 763 KB
Edition: William Morrow & Company
Date of issue: March 1st 1995
ISBN 13: 9780688100247
Read full description of the books Written In Blood:Written In Blood from 1994, is the 4th novel about Chief Inspector Barnaby by the English mystery writer Caroline Graham, and is one of the best novels in the series of seven. It has an intriguing plot centring on a group of amateur writers. Although "Midsomer Murders" is now a popular TV drama, with a huge number of episodes and writers involved, the few original novels by Caroline Graham are far less cosy.
The themes are also darker than in an average "cosy" mystery. This particular novel looks at child abuse, transvestism, insanity, power, manipulation, jealousy, and the nature of unconditional or obsessional love. The novel was dramatised in 1998, as the second episode of the TV series, "Midsomer Murders", and apart from a couple of minor details, such as far more involvement for Barnaby's wife Joyce, (who always seems to be partly responsible for the solution in the TV programmes) sticks quite closely to the plot of the novel. However, of course, there is less psychological insight, humour and detail in the TV version, as with all dramatisations.
We are introduced to the main characters via a lively set of cameo sketches. "The Midsomer Worthy Writer's Circle" is a group of amateur writers, making for a very entertaining hotchpotch of hopeful dabblers. Their secretary is Gerald Hadleigh, who writes thrillers. There is also an unbearably arrogant school teacher, Brian Clapper, who writes what he fondly thinks of as contemporary drama. His current piece of pretentious rubbish is entitled, "Slangwhang for Five Mute Voices." His downtrodden wife Sue writes cute children's stories about a friendly dragon. An antique shop owner, Laura Hutton, writes romantic fiction. An overbearingly patronising character, Honoria Lyddiard, is keen to inform everyone she is the last in one of the oldest families in England; she is writing about its history, and her widowed sister-in-law, Amy Lyddiard, writes poetry.
The novel starts with the group trying to decide who they would like to invite as a guest speaker. They fix on a celebrity, Max Jennings, who had formerly been a psychiatrist, but is now a best-selling novelist who has written a popular book entitled "Faraway Hills". Gerald Hadleigh is unaccountably very opposed to the idea, but as he will not say why, is soon overruled by the rest of the group.
The feeling of the novel becomes quite edgy, as clearly Gerald Hadleigh is a rather reclusive, introverted personality. He is so troubled and jittery that he feels forced to ask a neighbour, Rex St. John, not to leave him alone with their guest speaker when he arrives. The day arrives, and Max Jennings proves to be a charming and helpful speaker. Interestingly, later on he shows himself to have been a bit of a smoothtalker, clearly not missing a trick, with this nicely judged report of the individuals in the group,
"There was a woman with red hair - I'm afraid I forget her name - who was in love with Hadleigh. And extremely unhappy about it. A ghastly little man called Clapton. Hopelessly ineffectual and, I suspect, completely untalented, with his poor squash of a wife. A sweet old chap so distrait it hardly seemed safe to let him loose without a keeper and a fearsome, barking-mad woman with legs like Nelson's column and a quite Lawrentian idolatry for what she kept calling "true English blood.""
Max Jennings gives his talk to the group, yet it is clear to everyone that the relationship between himself and Gerald Hadleigh is very tense. The scene is set for action.
What Gerald had feared, of course happens, and the two are left alone. What follows is a dark and horrific story, a murder with a baffling puzzle at its root. There are also hilarious descriptions of some of the characters - Rex St John for one - and three intriguing and very involved subplots focusing on minor members of the group. Both of these may well have you cheering from the sidelines, as in each case the bullies get their comeuppance. And there is another death.
The detectives in these seven novels are not the friendly duo the TV "Midsomer Murders" aficionados are used to, but embittered ruthless coppers, often at each other's throats.
Here's is Barnaby's sergeant,
"Gavin was a walking mass of insecurities. He also had an overwhelming need to be admired, which, given the public's current perception of the Force, was in no danger at all of being satisfied."
The quotation shows the droll nature of Caroline Graham's writing, and also that the TV's gentle but slightly gormless and naive portrayal of Gavin Troy is a heavily sanitised version of the novel's self-centred, judgemental and brooding character.
"Barnaby had said that he felt sometimes his sergeant objected to murder not so much because it was an outrageous violation against a human soul but because it was chaotic. Troy had been both hurt and angry at their remark and the lack of moral sensiblity that it had implied. He had dwelt upon it at some length ... which made him angrier still, for introspection was not his forte and he avoided its dangers whenever possible."
In Barnaby's eyes,
"Troy suffered greatly from what Barnaby always thought of as the "treading-water syndrome". Panic at being out of one's depth. Fear that, if a case did not quickly yield up its secrets, it would remain forever impenetrable. Troy craved for something to hold onto, and quickly."
Since this novel marks both the midpoint and the high point of the series, the reader has become very interested in these two damaged personalities. Here, their differing reactions are nicely contrasted, when a suspect comments that they have never done a "proper day's work",
"Barnaby, though he had experienced in his long career tiredness so absolute that, waking or sleeping, he seemed to be trudging endlessly down a dark corridor of exhaustion in iron boots, rode this supercilious attack with ease. Troy took it personally, as he did everything, and reacted as if stung."
At another time, the volatile Troy,
"responded sharply as he always did to any adverse comment on his driving."
At almost every moment he seems to resent his boss,
"Not that the chief didn't have gut feelings but in his case, they were called perceptions and treated with cautious respect. When Troy had perceptions he was told he was being sloppyminded and to think things through."
And even when Gavin Troy does admire Barnaby, it is only because Barnaby has behaved peremptorily towards someone else, and Troy is feeling sour about the other person,
"his helpmate [Troy] smirked invisibly at the sweet neatness of this riposte. Arrogant fart-faced old biddy."
Barnaby, the older man, having seen more of life, has more true self-confidence,
"Barnaby was not afraid of emotion and would say, without hesitation, what was in his heart as well as what was in his mind if he thought the occasion warranted it. But, like all policemen, he tried not to get personally involved in an investigation, recognising the need for a clear and disinterested viewpoint."
He is also thoroughly committed to the job in hand,
"Thoughts about Jennings, always on a quiet, subterranean bubble, surfaced."
But Barnaby himself is not without prejudice, a certain type of inverted snobbery, quick to judge,
""Imagine living in that." Barnaby, looking back at the house, spoke with a certain scorn ... "Talk about medallion man write large." Not knowing what to say, for he had loved the house and everything in it, Troy shivered and kept silent."
The action of the novel is very well balanced between the complexities of the main mystery, the histories of all the characters involved, the development and conclusions of the subplots and the psychological makeup and interactions between the police involved. There is even a new enthusiastic young copper, not yet experienced enough to suffer from the prevailing malaise and jaundiced attitudes,
"D. C. Willoughby, looking even more crackly crisp than he had yesterday. Even his smile was freshly ironed."
And another copper, the bane of Barnaby's existence, Inspector Meredith, whom he sees as,
"sharp-eyed, snake-hipped, snake-headed, with his painted-on black hair and golden origins. Listening, falsely respectful, offering ideas with mock tentativeness. Biding his time. Youth and high-riding ambition on his side."
Quite a lot of the police work takes place in the police station or an incident room. Again, this is a more realistic approach than is seen in the TV dramatisations, where the entire case seems to be solved by the daring duo, aided, all the while, by Barnaby's wife, who as mentioned before, not only often provides a clue which enables Barnaby, with a flash of inspiration, to solve the puzzle, but seems inevitably embroiled in every murder in the sleepy villages of Midsomer. Here the denouement is not in fact provided by Joyce, but by means of a long soliloquy by one of the characters.
For a final quotation which made me smile, here is one character's assessment of TV and radio in the UK. It's a typically witty and apt description. Laura considers daytime TV to be,
"depressingly seedy. She had no wish to join what she had always assumed was an audience composed of the elderly, house-bound mums or the long-term unemployed. She had switched the radio on and off a dozen times. Radio 3 played music that was either totally insipid or so rowdy it hurt her ears. Radio 4 offered rising young lunatics from Westminster swearing eternal fealty to the electorate with their hands on their wallets. When the unctuous pieties of "Thought For the Day" started she had almost thrown the transistor across the kitchen."
Altogether this is a solid and enjoyable mystery story, dating from a decade ago; the time just before mystery stories became more about the back story and explorations into psychology than about the mystery itself. The characters are entertaining and well drawn, and their histories and personal developments are detailed and engrossing. Yet they are not overdone at the expense of the plot. It is quite lengthy, coming just at the time when the fashion for longer mystery novels started. But this complex plot is devious enough to tempt any mystery addict. And of course, it is quintessentially English.
Read information about the authorCaroline Graham is an English playwright, screenwriter and novelist. She attended the Open University, and received a degree in writing for the theatre from the University of Birmingham.
* Chief Inspector Barnaby
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