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.