First Sentence: Atherton was singing in his Dean Martin voice.
Personal fitness trainer Erik Lingoss is found murdered in his flat by a young woman who fancied herself in love with him. A box full of cash in his closet, 700 pounds under his pillow, and his missing mobile phone indicates things may not be as indicated. The more Slider and his team investigate, the more suspects emerge. Under pressure to clear the case, they work to find the who and why of the murder.
Beginning a new book by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is akin to being given one's favorite dessert. First, there is no prologue, not even one masquerading as a first chapter. The story begins on page one and continues to the end. Second, wonderful dialogue filled with wry humor—"Let he who is without sin bore the pants off everybody else." Last, the sense of time and place. Her evocative descriptions employ all the senses.
The characters are alive--"…Atherton stretched, catlike. Tall, elegant, sartor's plaything, he was as out of place at a dreary crime scene as an orchid in a vegetable patch." The balance is Slider, not a Long-Ranger cop, but respected by a team where each has their role to play. The plot may initially present itself as straightforward, yet one knows it won't stay that way long—"Thirteen thousand pounds. …Normal people don't keep large amounts of cash in the wardrobe."
Including characters' families in the story adds humanity and dimension. Unlike the questionable stability of Atherton's relationship, Slider has an extended family of his wife, son and a child on the way, a daughter by his first marriage, a father and his partner. A wonderful hospital scene touches the heart.
The author's use of language, including the chapter headings, is a pleasure. One small caution, or treat, is that it is very British, meaning there are numerous British terms and idioms. It can be confusing, but the meaning is easy enough to glean from the context—"The bathos almost made him smile." The use of malaprops—"Putting the cat before the horse, aren't you?"—and literary references are fun to spot. The banter between Slider and Atherton realistically reflects that of friends/colleagues who know each other well.
The plot focuses on the real police work of identifying the many suspects, following leads, and looking for evidence. What drives Slider as much as finding the killer is discovering the motive which is poignant.
"Cruel as the Grave" is such a good read. Harrod-Eagles is a skilled writer who evokes empathy for the killer. It was truly the dessert's finishing touch.
CRUEL AS THE GRAVE (PolProd-D.S.I. Bill Slider-London-Contemp) – G+
Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia – 22nd in series
Severn House, Feb 2021, 256 pp