‘We did a project on it when I was at primary school. The Vicious Vikings. Although most of the settlements’ names are quite innocuous. Applethwaite, Brackenthwaite, Crosthwaite – quite often you can work it out.’
DS Leyton looks rather bemused.
‘So, what – did they speak English?’
DS Jones giggles as though she thinks he must be joking. But then she responds. ‘No – we speak Old Norse.’
It’s one of the charms of Bruce Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill novels (for me) that there are occasional allusions to the history of the Cumberland region where Skelgill operates. In the passage above, our detectives, Skelgill, DS Jones (female) and DS Leyton (male) are talking about local farm names, which often contain the element “thwaite,” which is related to the Norwegian word “tvedt.” Both mean “field.”
But that’s not what Murder at the Meet, the latest Skelgill novel, is mainly about. More than 20 years ago, a young wife and mother named Mary Wilson disappeared during the annual Shepherd’s Meet. As it happens, that was the same year a teenager named Dan Skelgill won the Fell Runners’ race, setting a long-standing record. At the time, the police employed brand-new technology, DNA testing, matching it to the one discovered piece of evidence, to try to identify her attacker or abductor (assuming she didn’t just run off). But without success.
Now Mary’s bones have been found, by archaeologists in a local cave. Skelgill and his team start interviewing surviving witnesses and family members, and discover – as you would expect – a number of old secrets and personal grudges. And all the while Skelgill does his own eccentric thing – applying his knowledge of local geography, biology and weather, along with the sensibilities of a fisherman.
It’s all enjoyable and familiar for the Skelgill fan. I did think this effort was a little unfair to the reader, as we were denied the information that finally unlocks the puzzle until after the climax – and so we didn’t know what all the urgency was about. That reduced the suspense for me.
But that aside, Murder at the Meet was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.