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In the 1950s, Morley Tremain is charged with the murder and rape of his ex-girlfriend, largely on the evidence of his uncle, aunt and cousins. He escapes hanging, but spends fourteen years in jail before being released, only to die in a car accident a few years later. In the 1970s, Morley's uncle is killed in a boat explosion and the obvious candidate for the killer is his son, Morley's cousin, Cedric. Wycliffe is holidaying in the Cornish villages where these events took place and becomes involved in the investigation. He is not convinced that Cedric, although a troublemaker in many ways, is responsible for the death. Finding out about the earlier murder case, he wonders whether there is any link. Can he prove that Cedric wasn't the murderer? Or is it too late after all of this time?
Written by W J Burley, the Wycliffe series has proved popular with fans of crime fiction over the years. The books are mostly set in the seventies and eighties and so don't involve much in the way of new-fangled detection methods - Wycliffe's methods are based around thinking and getting the right information out of people, which he invariably does. The setting, in Cornwall, is also an attraction for a lot of people - many of the stories, like this one, are set in picturesque Cornish sea-side villages. When televised, Wycliffe was played by Jack Shepherd, who gave an excellent portrayal of Wycliffe, remaining very close to the books.
Bearing this in mind, Jack Shepherd is therefore the obvious candidate for a narration of the story for this audio book. And in some ways, he is good - the sound of his voice is reminiscent of the TV show and he does tell the story well. Where he lets the side down is with his lack of ability to differentiate between voices. The listener really has to listen carefully to know who it is that is speaking. This isn't really a major problem, but I have become used to better narrators, such as Hugh Fraser and Martin Jarvis, who have the amazing ability to change their voices for each character, and even manage to sound amazingly like women (when doing a female voice obviously!) without sounding ridiculous. I did miss that here. Then again, as I listen to audio books to relax before sleeping, the monotonous voice did help me to drop off!
W J Burley's characters are rarely exciting; they are usually working class with ordinary jobs, just wanting to get through life the best way they can. That is fine though, because it really is the story that carries the books. I would prefer that Wycliffe himself was a more interesting character though. I only know things about him from having read other books - there is little about his background shared in this story. Wycliffe is a bit of a loner, always wondering off on his own to do tasks that really his underlings ought to do. We know he has a wife and daughter, because they are mentioned in this book - they are on holiday with him - and we know that he is a workaholic, but other than that, he is rather a vague character. That could, of course, be because the audio book is an abridged version; however, having previously read a number of the books, I know he is usually described in a similar manner with little character development.
Few of the books from the Wycliffe series can be said to be masterpieces. The stories are usually enjoyable, but basic, and this one is no different. This one does, however, have the advantage of having two crimes in one. I did enjoy this - I particularly like stories about past murders that somehow relate to the present. The story certainly starts off well - the story of Morley is on the first disc of the DVD set - and really helps to set the scene, with an intriguing 'did he, didn't he' ending. Morley is the most pleasant member of the Tremain family, which is probably another reason that I found his story more enjoyable. When the story of Cedric and his father kicks in, I began to lose interest a little, simply because they weren't very likeable characters. Cedric's sister, Eunice, is also a nasty piece of work.
Another disadvantage to the story is that I had guessed the ending quite some time before it was actually told. There are a number of clues given away quite clumsily throughout the course of the story - this isn't down to Jack Shepherd's narration, it is just the way that the book is written. This meant that half way through the last disc, I knew what was going to happen, and listening after that became something I did just because the disc was still playing. Had I been reading the book, I would probably have been tempted to skip a few pages and just jump to the end to check whether I was right or not. On the whole, the story was an enjoyable one, but had a bit more thought been put into the telling of it, it could have been a much better one.
The story is told over 3 discs and lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes. It has been well produced - the story is neatly split into thirds, so that there are cliff-hangers at the end of each disc to persuade you to go straight on to the next one. I particularly liked the fact that Morley's story had its own disc, because it emphasised the fact that it was a different crime. Each disc is split into chapters, which makes it fairly easy to skip backwards and forwards, although sometimes it is still necessary to use the backward and forward buttons if you want to find a particular place. From that point of view, I often prefer audio books to be on cassette - it is easy to simply stop it and then come back to the same place the next day without leaving the player switched on. However, as audio books are now almost exclusively on CD, there isn't really much choice but to buy the CD version. The case is neatly made, from a different form of plastic from the usual CD cases - this is a huge advantage for me, because they don't break if you tread on them, which, being messy, I am always doing.
I do have a large collection of audio books, including Hannibal, but I tend to find that sort of story keeps me awake because it is too full of action. I'm glad to have this audio book because it is exactly the sort of gentle story I like to listen to before sleeping. It isn't the best story in the world, but it is enjoyable and Jack Shepherd's voice is soothing, if a little monotonous. The fact that the story is set in Cornwall in the seventies adds to the comfort factor. If you like non-gritty crime fiction and audio books, then this is a good choice - if you can get it for the right price that is. Recommended, three stars out of five.
The audio book is available from Amazon for a whopping £12.75 new. It is worth looking at the used section though, or in The Works - I bought mine from there for just £3.99.