The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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May 20, 2011

A Root and Branch Investigation

Would Hannah find the culprit? He ought to leave the investigation to her; it was absurd to suppose that he had inherited some genetic instinct for detection. Yet he wanted to do more than rely on such crumbs of information as she designed to pass to him. He felt pangs of hunger for knowledge that a police officer, trammelled by rules and procedures, could never satisfy. At college, he'd craved information about the past like a junkie yearns for one more high.  This urge wasn't such a different sensation, except that this time he sought to understand who had destroyed a fellow human being. And why.

When I read The Hanging Wood, the fifth (?) book in Martin Edwards' Hannah Scarlett/Daniel Kind mystery series, I enjoyed it, but was a little underwhelmed.  Happily for me, though, some of our fellow readers responded that it might not be his strongest book and that this might be a series where it's best to start at the beginning.  That was enough encouragement for me {thank you!} to look forThe Coffin Trail in the library, and reading this first book  is enough encouragement for me to go back for the next three.

That's great, because if there is England/country houses/a good love life/academia, with solid writing and good character development, a mystery usually works for me. Daniel is a historian (and a celebrity, after hosting a BBC series) interested in the concept of the historian as detective, an idea that horrifies his academic colleagues (and appeals to me). Daniel and his magazine-writer girlfriend Miranda, whom he has not known for very long, visit the Lake District for a holiday and decide to give up their Oxford and London lives and renovate a rundown cottage. {The 'coffin trail' is a path near the house, now a hiking route, that villagers used centuries ago to carry their dead to burial.} The cottage has gone unsold, possibly because an accused murderer lived there, before his own frightening death, and it turns out that Daniel had befriended the man, years ago, on a childhood visit to the Lakes, and doesn't believe him capable of what he is supposed to have done.  I like that Daniel is intelligent, thoughtful, a little blunt, willing to stir up buried questions, and kind of an idiot when it comes to his love life.

In the first few chapters, Martin Edwards has to create connections -- even before he gets down to the murder mystery -- between and among Daniel, his late father Ben, DCI Hannah Scarlett (Ben's protegee and the reluctant leader of a new cold case squad), Hannah's lover Marc, a bookstore owner, Marc's women friends, a wealthy landowner and his elegant younger wife, their tenant farmer, and others, and I thought he did this elegantly. On the other hand, the solution to the murder seemed to hang on a very thin hook, but that happens a lot in books like this, and it's not really why I read them. :)

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Ann said...

'The Hanging Wood' is definitely not the best in the series and I'm glad you've gone back to the earlier novels. I hope that Edwards hasn't run out of steam with this theme because Daniel and Hannah are such attractive characters. I'm waiting for the nest one with some trepidation.

lyn said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this earlier book. I love this series & I think the relationship between Daniel & Hannah is one of its greatest strengths.

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