The last Golden Age murder…
😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂
Back in 1963 Dalziel was a young detective, working for a man he respected as a mentor and friend, Wally Tallantire. It was Tallantire who solved what has since been called “the last Golden Age murder” – called that, anyway, by the documentary maker who is casting doubt on the investigation and questioning the verdict. A weekend house party at Mickledore Hall had included a government minister, a diplomat with Royal connections, a CIA officer, a variety of spouses and a couple of nannies, and much bed-hopping had gone on. It all ended with the shooting of one of the wives, and Tallantire’s investigation led to the conviction of the owner of the Hall, Ralph Mickledore, and his lover, the American nanny Cissy Kohler. Mickledore, strangely confident that he would be pardoned, found his confidence misplaced and was hanged. Cissy Kohler, whose confession led to the conviction of them both, has spent thirty years in prison, but is now out and is claiming Tallantire forced the confession out of her. In a bid to protect the reputation of his old mentor, now dead, Dalziel starts to look into the case again. At first he is confident the right people were convicted at the time, but gradually he begins to worry that Tallantire may indeed have cut a few corners…
This is quite an odd one in the series, in that it’s a cold case investigation. As is usual in the UK, another force has been tasked with carrying out the review of the handling of the case and Dalziel is told by his boss to keep out of it, but when does Dalziel ever do what his boss tells him? Soon he has dragged Pascoe into his unofficial investigation, reluctantly since Pascoe is in the unenviable position of being the liaison with the official investigators. Pascoe never knew Tallantire, but his loyalty to Dalziel is stronger than he would like to admit so he understands why Dalziel wants Tallantire’s name cleared.
1963 was the time of the Profumo affair in Britain, which involved the downfall of a government minister, John Profumo, when it was revealed that he had been having an affair with a woman, Christine Keeler, who had also been playing around with a Soviet naval officer. One scandal led to another, and there were all kinds of rumours of men in prominent positions being involved with high-class prostitutes provided by a kind of socialite pimp, who later killed himself. Hill has used this story freely to build his own version of the scandal among the people visiting Mickledore Hall, but with enough differences to keep it interesting. For instance, he has added at least one murder! One of the things I like about Hill is that when he borrows from life or fiction, he makes it very clear that he’s doing so – it is no coincidence, I’m sure, that Christine Keeler and Cissy Kohler share initials, for instance. The title is also borrowed, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in which an innocent man spends many years in prison for the crime of knowing too much about the sordid secrets of the rich and powerful.
However, Cissy is not an appealing character. Whether guilty or innocent of involvement in the murder for which she was convicted, there is no doubt that one of her young charges died while in her care, either through negligence or deliberate design. And during her imprisonment she killed a prison guard. Dalziel feels these actions vindicate Tallantire’s belief in her guilt. But when he comes to suspect that maybe Tallantire did pressure her into a confession, he realises this would mean that the real guilty party got away with murder, and that’s not an idea that pleases him.
When Dalziel is told in no uncertain terms to take a holiday before he gets suspended, he decides to go to America, where several of the original suspects now are, including Cissy herself. Seeing Dalziel blundering about America in his usual blunt, bull in a china shop way is fun – he is as baffled by some aspects of American culture as the Americans are by him.
The story in this one is very convoluted, and it seems as if everyone has at least one secret, often more. I think it gets too busy at times, and crosses the credibility line more than Hill usually does. However, he’s great at showing how big a part class played in all aspects of British life in the early ‘60s – it still does, of course, but there’s not the same reverence today as there was back then towards the “well-born” rich and powerful. The death of the child makes it darker than a true Golden Age mystery would normally be, and gives a psychological depth and ambiguity to Cissy’s character that might otherwise have been missing. But there’s also enough humour in it to lift the tone and make it as entertaining as most of these books are. Not one I’d recommend as an entry point for newcomers to the series since I think it works better if you know Dalziel well, but a rewarding and enjoyable read for existing fans.