Tag Archives: Phillip Strang

‘Murder of a Silent Man,’ by Phillip Strang

Murder of a Silent Man

Yet another in an apparently infinite supply of English police procedural mystery series. I tried Murder of a Silent Man (I suppose I identified with the title) by Phillip Strang. It had certain virtues which I won’t deny, but overall I wasn’t much impressed.

Gilbert Lawrence is the murder victim in this story. He’s an old, reclusive man who only went out once a week, to the liquor store. No one would have guessed he was one of the richest men in the country, unless they noticed the large house where he lived, holed up in a small locked area. But someone took the trouble to stab him to death in his front garden, and now DCI Isaac Cook and his team must unravel the mystery. It’s compounded by the discovery of a human skeleton in an upstairs bed.

There’s no lack of suspects. Lawrence had two estranged children, one a prosperous wife, the other a drug addict and con man. For years his affairs have been handled by his solicitor and his daughter, who have been profiting well from his business interests – perhaps too well.

The great virtue of this book was its realism. It followed police procedure in a believable way. No flashes of genius insight here, no car chases or terrorist situations. Just solid police work leading finally to a solid – and undramatic – conclusion. I don’t mind that at all. Some people might want more bells and whistles, but I liked this approach.

What I didn’t care for was the presentation of the story. The prose was sometimes weak. The characters weren’t very vivid – the suspects were more interesting than the cops, but they weren’t all that fascinating either. We weren’t even given descriptions of most of the cops – except for DCI Cook, who is Jamaican by heritage. Apparently author Strang assumed the reader would have read the earlier books in the series and would remember earlier descriptions.

So all in all, I wasn’t greatly impressed. I did appreciate the realism, though.

‘Death Unholy,’ by Phillip Strang

Death Unholy

Sometimes you can see what an author’s going for, but he just doesn’t have the skills to deliver. That’s my judgment on Phillip Strang’s Death Unholy.

It’s become almost compulsory in British police procedurals, perhaps due to the Inspector Morse model: Team a crusty old detective with a young rookie detective. Nowadays it almost has to be a female rookie. And that’s exactly what we have in Death Unholy. Keith Tremayne is an aging cop, approaching retirement, in Salisbury. His subordinate is Clare Yarwood, a suitably attractive young detective.

One day they get a truly bizarre case – apparently spontaneous human combustion. An old man – or rather his ashes, plus his legs – is found very dead in an easy chair. Such cases are generally explained by dropped cigarettes and a smoldering effect, but this fellow didn’t smoke.

As Tremayne and Yarwood inquire into the man’s circle of acquaintances, further people start disappearing or dying by violence. Eventually their attention is drawn to a nearby village, historically isolated, where the Anglican priest lives in fear for his soul, and ancient pagan rituals continue to be practiced – and they seem to be effective.

Death Unholy just didn’t come together for me. The classic grumpy English detectives, like Morse, are usually softened by some unexpected outside interest (often music) that humanizes them. Tremayne, we’re told, has nothing beside his job in his life other than betting on horses and drinking. He’s a bore, and utterly predictable. Dialogue in a novel is supposed to reveal the characters to the reader, through observation of how people relate. Author Strang here gives us the dialogue and then informs us what it means. A big surprise near the end was obvious to me a mile off, and another smaller surprise at the very end made no sense to me based on how the character had been established.

Death Unholy starts as a police procedural, then blindsides the reader by turning into a supernatural thriller. I have an idea that author Strang may have beliefs that I approve of, but I don’t think he made them work for him in this book.

Cautions for mature themes.