Strange Images of Death

Written by Barbara Cleverly
Review by John R. Vallely

Commander Joe Sandilands of Scotland Yard is faced with a curious problem as he motors through France in 1926. Joe, a man uncertain how to behave around teenagers, has as his passenger his opinionated and obstinate 14-year-old niece, Dorcas. Joe is on his way to holiday on the Riviera and intends only to stop for a short time in Provence’s Chateau du Diable to drop Dorcas off with her father, Orlando Joliffe. His investigative talents are called into play at the ancient and forbidding chateau as Orlando and his artist friends are plagued by crimes ranging from a mysterious act of desecration, to a missing child, and on to the murder of a pretty young model.

The list of suspects is far from the usual street toughs as Joe has to consider the guilt or innocence of an artistic ensemble as far removed from criminal activities as Provence is from London. Barbara Cleverly does not dwell in the rough-and-tumble world of gritty action novels but rather in an environment of well-drawn character types, individuals struggling with issue of self-definition, and one in which the mature police officer uses intelligence and guile rather than guns and force. As for Joe and the problematic teenage Dorcas—it turns out their world views aren’t so incompatible after all.