Tag Archives: Inspector Skelgill

‘Murder at the Wake,’ by Bruce Beckham

Murder at the Wake

‘Still, Guv – darkest hour before dawn, eh?’

‘What?’

Skelgill’s tone is irate, though DS Leyton seems not to notice.

‘It’s what they say, Guv – that it’s the darkest hour before dawn.’

‘No it’s not. It starts getting light in the hour before dawn. It’s called nautical twilight. The darkest hour’s in the middle of the night, Leyton.’

I have an idea that Bruce Beckham, author of the Inspector Skelgill mysteries, is having us on. Just as his main character likes to play tricks on his longsuffering subordinates, Jones and Leyton, Beckham has a lot of stuff going on in his books that’s not apparent on the surface. One obvious example is the language – his characters never employ any curse stronger than “darn” in the dialogue, but the narrator informs us matter-of-factly that the actual words were much saltier. And it’s fairly plain that Skelgill enjoys a rich and varied sex life, but we only learn about it from hints – as when he appears at work wearing the same clothes he wore the day before. The same goes for his attractive female subordinate DS Jones, and there are signs they may have something going between them. But it’s never stated, at least thus far.

Beckham also likes to play with names, in Dickensian style. An actor character, for instance, is named Brutus. That’s kind of nice, I have to admit (it helps me keep track of the characters, which is often a problem for me). But naming a Dublin legal firm “Mullarkey & Shenanigan, Solicitors,” may be a bridge over the Liffey too far.

The form of these novels is generally cozy, but unlike Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, Inspector Skelgill is no cold-blooded thinking machine. Skelgill barely thinks at all. He’s a purely physical man who solves his puzzles kinetically, as a kind of by-product of his physical exertions. In the early books it was mostly “fell running,” but more recently it’s been fishing on the lakes of England’s Lake District, where he is a policeman.

That gut-based method of operation is severely restricted in Murder at the Wake, which takes place after a freak blizzard and extended cold spell have rendered the lakes unfishable. When elderly Declan O’More is found clubbed to death in his study in his family’s stately home, one week after the death of his older brother, Skelgill is helping the mountain rescue team search for a lost hiker. He gets the helicopter pilot to drop him near the hall, and is confronted with something like a classic Agatha Christie problem – the residents of the hall, gathered for the funeral, have been isolated there. They are Declan’s five grand-nephews and nieces, plus a few servants and business connections. One of them must be the killer.

Skelgill goes to work in his usual fashion, being rude and insensitive to almost everyone and attracting strong attention from the females present. After the roads open up the investigation proceeds along more conventional lines, and the inquiries stretch as far as Dublin. The murderer is finally unmasked in a dramatic, but somewhat contrived, scene.

Skelgill annoys me, but I keep coming back to his stories. So I must be entertained. In that light I recommend Murder at the Wake, though it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

‘Murder in the Mind,’ by Bruce Beckham

Murder in the Mind

‘Do you catch by logic, Daniel – or is it gut feel?’

Skelgill turns to her, blinking.

‘You mean fish?’

‘Fish – or criminals. Is there a difference?’

Now Skelgill is forced to contemplate the distinction.

‘After I’ve caught a fish – when I’m thinking about it – maybe driving home, walking the dog, whatever – I can explain how I did it.’ He pulls of his Tilley hat and absently combs back his hair with the fingers of one hand. ‘I can’t honestly say I always see it at the time.’

I think I have a codependent relationship with Bruce Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill mysteries, set in England’s Cumbria county. The man is annoying by design, and he does annoy me. He’s obsessive, exploitative of his underlings, and insensitive to others generally. And yet I keep coming back to the books.

In this outing, Murder in the Mind, Skelgill is more irritating than usual (even after appearing to make progress in the previous book). He and the long-suffering Sergeant Leyton drive out to a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane. The complaint is – apparently – a trivial one. Some supplies have gone missing. Yet before long two patients are dead, and later two more escape, one with a hostage. Continue reading ‘Murder in the Mind,’ by Bruce Beckham

‘Murder by Magic,’ by Bruce Beckham

Murder by Magic

I’m liking Bruce Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill series better and better as the novels go on. However, there’s one problem with Murder by Magic that means I’ll have to include in this review a warning for our readers.

This time around, Inspector Skelgill of the Midlands CID grows curious about a spate of sheep mutilations in the Lake District. Then he and his team look into the disappearance of an eastern European tourist, who seems to have disappeared on an extensive estate recently purchased a foreign scholar.

The inquiry leads to human trafficking, a black magic coven, and a violent climax in which Skelgill shows considerable personal courage, and even (surprisingly) a modicum of consideration for one of his sergeants, Sergeant Leyton, a Cockney he tends to run roughshod over. It’s less surprising that he takes care of his female sergeant, Sergeant Jones, an attractive woman he’s been flirting with passively throughout the series.

My problem with the story is a theological one. It’s pretty much impossible nowadays to write a story with evil black witches, I guess, unless you throw in a good white witch to prove you’re not a Salem Puritan. So here we have an attractive, wise, and helpful white witch who provides material assistance to the inquiry.

No mention of Christian spiritual teachings about magic are in evidence.

I suppose author Beckham had no choice. The story as a whole was good enough – the best in the series so far, I think – that I’ll probably read more, even in spite of the detour into the occult.

I suppose that means I’m getting old and soft.

Otherwise, recommended. The violence is not graphic, and the bad language is masked with circumlocutions, some of them pretty creative. Beckham also excels at descriptions of nature, which will be a special draw for certain readers.

‘Murder on the Lake,’ by Bruce Beckham

Murder on the Lake

I decided to turn away from my reading of Gregg Hurwitz, and take up Bruce Beckham, whom I dropped a while back. I’m not tired of Hurwitz, but I was a little exhausted by the level of dramatic tension he dispenses. I thought something a little milder, in a kinder, gentler literary world, might be enjoyable for a change. So I returned to Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill novels. No one would call the prickly Lake District detective “cozy,” but his stories are closer to the world of Agatha Christie than to the thriller genre.

Author Beckham has a little fun with that fact as Murder on the Lake begins. At the start, we’re confronted with a classic “Ten Little Indians” situation – a group of people isolated on an island estate, in a storm without electricity or telephones. One of them dies, and the suspicion rises that they might have a murderer in their midst.

In steps Inspector Skelgill. He’s been fishing on the lake, and the storm has forced him to the island’s dock. There he meets a young woman, one of the party at the hall (it’s a writers’ retreat), and he goes up to investigate. Once he’s met everyone and heard their stories, he returns to his boat, where he has left his mobile phone – but the boat has mysteriously vanished. He has to sleep in the hall, and overnight another guest dies.

Having had his little genre joke, author Beckham then brings things back to normal. Skelgill is rescued by his sergeants the next morning, and they take up the investigation in their usual style: Skelgill drives his subordinates nearly mad through thoughtlessness, demands on their time, and food-filching (he’s a mountain runner and always hungry). But gradually, by way of his disorganized, rather intuitive deductive processes, he uncovers the truth – along with some unpleasant truths about the publishing industry.

Beckham has fun with this story. Several of the characters have Dickension names – a literary agent named Lampray, a critic named Cutting, etc. I don’t really care for the present-tense narration employed, but I have to admit I soon forgot about it. The language is remarkably restrained – Beckham employs circumlocutions whenever his characters sink to foul language.

I enjoyed Murder on the Lake. I can only take Inspector Skelgill in small quantities, but I am reading the sequel now.