Best known for his revival of EF Benson’s Mapp & Lucia characters in such novels as “Au Reservoir” and “Lucia On Holiday” (probably enough in itself to win me over) Guy Fraser Sampson has now embarked upon a crime series subtitled “The Hampstead Murders.” This police procedural novel is the first. Publishers are always keen to find some different aspect for their crime lists and this certainly does have an original slant, but for me that slant doesn’t work.
As a police procedural all is good, the case is involving, there are plenty of twists and a good balance of investigation, trial and office politics. However, the author has sought to combine this, a modern day serial killer on the loose in North London with more than a nod to the writers of the Golden Age of detective fiction. He introduces a conceit whereby it appears as if characters from Dorothy L Sayers are playing a part in the investigation. For me, this just didn’t work.
I’m very aware of plot spoiling so I’ll say little but when the team of a two year old investigation into the series of murders is refreshed a profiler is brought in. Now I know all about profilers (I do watch “Criminal Minds after all) but it does seem like the good team at Hampstead nick know very little. The eccentric individual helping out the Police has been a staple of detective fiction since Conan Doyle but I just couldn’t get to grips with this character and the whimsy of the whole Lord Peter Wimsey idea grows from this.
When the characters involved in the investigation are on task they are great, believable and generally convincing. Away from the case it’s all rather stilted and I found the relationships between them came across as inauthentic. This is something I would be looking out for in the next of the series. Hopefully, as the characters become more established they will come alive away from the detective work.
I’m not sure how this author’s device of incorporating elements of the Golden Age will work in the next of the series. I would rather hope that it wasn’t there as it seems an uneasy marriage.
I do think there’s lots for crime-loving reading groups to discuss as I think there will be lots of divided opinion. I do love Dorothy L Sayers and maybe she does have a place in a modern day Hampstead crime spree but not like this.
Death In Profile is published by Urbane Books on March 28th 2016. Many thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for this advance copy.