Dead in the Dog

Written by Bernard Knight
Review by Suzanne J. Sprague

When Tom Howden enlisted for three years as a pathologist in Her Majesty’s Far East Land Forces during the campaign against the Communist Chinese insurgents, he didn’t imagine that the British Military Hospital in Malaya would be involved in a mysterious civilian murder nor that he would be called upon to provide forensic assistance.

Upon his arrival in 1954, Tom discovered an assorted group of characters at the hospital and the members-only Sussex Club, also known as The Dog, where the officers and white planters met for dancing, drinks, and drama. Rubber plantation owner James Robertson and his beautiful but unhappy wife, Diane, caused much of the commotion. His abrasiveness and unfaithfulness annoyed the officers and infuriated his wife, whose own discontent manifested itself in over-imbibing and amorous liaisons with several of the men.

When James is murdered, almost everyone is a suspect. Because Tom is the only person with forensic skills and without a motive to kill Robertson, he is asked by Steven Blackwell, superintendent of the local police in the nearest town, Tanah Timah, to assist with the investigation.

Through Tom’s reactions, we discover Malaya’s exotic climate and culture as he does. Interactions between the characters and succinct narration give historical perspective without heavy-handed political or violence-ridden exposition. When Knight does describe the heat and the dangerous Black Areas, it does not distract from trying to determine who, out of the many suspects, could be the killer.

Dead in the Dog, first in this new series, further bolsters Knight’s reputation as a top murder mystery author and does not disappoint.