Author Louise Penny, she of the multi-award winning Three Pines series and the creator of Inspector Gamache, first recommended UK author Aline Templeton, and Auntie M has been thanking her ever since.
Templeton worked in education and broadcasting, writing numerous stories for newspapers and magazines, before turning her hand to crime novels. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and has two grown children.
Her DI Marjory Fleming series is a stand out. Here we have a woman in a hard-driven job usually given to men, constantly proving herself, while she juggles two teenagers at home. And did I mention her husband is a sheep farmer? This is a well-drawn character, a woman who readily admits cooking is not her forte` and one who would rather unwind in the evening with a dram of scotch, her old collie and her husband beside her.
Templeton does a fine job of exploring and explaining crime taking place in small, southwestern Scottish towns along the coast. The first in the series is titled Cold in the Earth, and Auntie M is still searching for a copy of it. The next, The Darkness and the Deep, was my first introduction to this readable series. The novel revolves around the Royal National Lifeboat Museum and its rescue service, where the ancient stone harbour of the port of Knockhaven becomes the setting for a most unusual murder. Centered around the wreck of the Knockhaven lifeboat with multiple loss of life, the tragedy impact the entire community.
Then DS Tam McNee discovers this supposed accident was a deliberate act, and the hunt is on for a murderer. But who of the dead was actually the intended victim? When the case breaks, Fleming and her team plunge into the searching, routing the lives of the small town’s inhabitants who were close to the victims. In a fishing port ravaged by unemployment, even the idea of vandalism gone awry must be explored. The drug trade has taken root in the area, providing an additional area to investigate.
As Fleming’s team works hard and the town becomes hungry for justice, the pressures, both personal and professional mount. The book is well-plotted and a great read.
Next in the series is Lying Dead, which opens with the bludgeoned body of an attractive young woman being found in the woods after the silence of the quiet spring morning is broken by the ringing of her mobile phone. At first it appears the woman is from Manchester, and efforts to identify her start there. It will be difficult to describe more of the convoluted plot without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that you won’t be disappointed as Fleming and her team search for a canny murderer.
This time the town of Drumbreck, a few miles from Glasgow, comes into scrutiny, which it is determined the victim used to live there and still has multiple ties to the area. As much as Templeton does justice to the small towns she creates, these lovely novels are all character-driven, with entirely believable characters. Templeton takes care to never allow them to become parodies of “country folk,” and the themes she explores are universal. Here adultery is the crux of the matter, and as Fleming manages the personnel in her team, we see her in both domestic and professional modes.
The third Auntie M read is titled Lamb to the Slaughter and it opens with the tranquility of a sunny evening broken by the brutal murder of an old man, gunned down on his own doorstep. The peaceful market town of Kirkluce is locked in a bitter debate which has divided the population: whether a proposed superstore would benefit or harm the charming community. The victim would have been instrumental in passing this scheme, or not, depending on whom Fleming speaks to. Fleming and her team are investigating this murder when a dead sheep, bloodied and gored, is found abandoned in the streets. Added in are bouts of escalating vandalism which seem to be bordering on sinister aggression against an elderly woman. Are the two things connected? Then a band of teenaged bikers loom on the periphery of Fleming’s case when it hits too close to home and she finds her daughter has befriended the group.
When a second victim dies in an apparent random shooting, the townspeople fear walking the streets. It’s up to Fleming to prove these are not motiveless sniper deaths, and she struggles to unearth how the crimes are connected.
Next, Auntie M found one of Templeton’s earlier stand-alones. 1980’s Death is My Neighbor is out of print, so if you become a fan, start searching those used bookstores. Five more stand-alones follow, most published by Hodder and Staughton, and 2001’s Shades of Death is one I scored and read. In this one Templeton takes us to a remote area of Derbyshire, filled with caves, and uses the landscape in this psychological novel filled with suspense.
DS Tom Ward finds himself in charge of the Peak District investigation when the skeleton of an eleven-year old girl is discovered after lying in wait to be found for the last eighteen years. The lapse of time proves a huge stumbling block as he tries to work his way back in time to discover who would have wanted such a young child to die. His route is filled with folklore, suicide, and more death, and peppered with the appearance of a beautiful young widow Ward refuses to believe is involved. But is his attraction blinding him to reality?
This thriller goes beyond the usual police procedural in its deft style and taut plot. I’ll be looking for some of Templeton’s back list for the other stand-alones, and am scurrying to find the next to Fleming novels: Dead in the Water and Cradle to Grave. Good luck on your own hunt. These will not disappoint.