Enter Pale Death

Written by Barbara Cleverly
Review by Lynn Guest

In Suffolk, 1933, the wife of a promising politician is trampled to death by a vicious stallion. Although this has been officially dismissed as a tragic accident, Assistant-Commissioner Joe Sandilands of Scotland Yard receives an anonymous letter hinting at murder, followed by a visit from Sir James Trulove, the victim’s widower, a Government minister who, Joe suspects, is trying to seduce the girl Sandilands loves. Sent on a rather peculiar errand by Sir James, Joe meets a local detective who turns out to be Sir James’s illegitimate half-brother and who also believes Lady Trulove has been murdered. When Joe learns his girl was a member of the house party on the day Lady Trulove died and may be suspected of the crime, he has no choice but to travel to Suffolk. Invited to join a house party at the Trulove estate, Joe sets out to investigate the case.

As a newcomer to the Joe Sandilands series, I found the first chapters bewildering. Oblique references to characters, their connections and to past events are scattered around, forcing me to backtrack frequently. This, combined with Cleverley’s tendency to diversions which are often irrelevant and slow the pace of a long novel, makes for some frustration. But when she sticks to business, this is an intriguing and entertaining mystery. The period setting is excellent. The language, the attitudes and the topical gossip give a strong Thirties feeling. She also brings rural Suffolk alive, describing the villages and people with affection. The central characters are well drawn with complex motives; not until the end was this reader certain who was guilty of what in the numerous complications of the plot. Caveats aside, the novel is well worth persevering with.