Catherine Aird: Parting Breath
7th in the Sloan series – 1977

Sloan has problems enough at Calleshire University
with a sit-in, then there is a peculiar theft, followed
by a murder – and Sloan’s only clue are the
man’s dying words – ‘Twenty-six minutes’.

Just so I am proved wrong, Aird follows up
one of her best (Slight Mourning) with the worst
I have yet read. Parts of this book – those describing
students and student-life – can only be described
as an embarrassment. The sub-genre of academic
murders is a rich and fascinating one, but this must rank
high in the ranks of the worst ever written.
Even if we leave the students on one side there
are far too many characters, many of them pretty
indistinguishable. So it fails as a closed-circle
mystery plot too. Worse still there is a spooky
(as in spies not ghosts) angle to this book –
quite preposterous; oh why do writers go there?
Above all writers like Aird who’s strengths lie in
very different areas. Perhaps at this point she felt
she wanted to spread her wings? If so it was –
as it so often is – a very bad idea. Only for the
most devoted Aird completist.

(December 2007)

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