Sally Spencer: The Salton Killings (1998)
Book 1 in the Inspector Woodend series

It is 1958 in the Cheshire village of Salton and a young girl
is found buried in the salt workings which give the village
its name. The county Police, feeling that they are unable to
handle the case. call in Scotland Yard in the form of Inspector
Charlie ‘Cloggin-it’ Woodend and his new assistant,
the ambitious Sergeant Rutter. They quickly uncover that the village has a lot of secrets including the
unsolved murder of a young girl some 15 years previously.

I read this because I have read a couple of later entries in
the series recently (and Spencer has been astonishingly
prolific – this first book was in 1998 and the series in now
up to number 19! so 2 a year) and wanted to see how it started
and maybe read them chronologically. In that sense this
book is not very helpful – Woodend and Rutter return to London
at the conclusion. Indeed there is a very odd epitaph
set thirty years’ after the book’s conclusion, in which Woodend
is retired in Spain and Rutter is a Chief Superintendent at
Scotland Yard. Now as the series is set in Cheshire I wonder
if Spencer intended to write a series at all when she wrote
this book? It obviously closes off some options – such as
the death of Woodend or Rutter – if she allowed this epitaph
to stand. The epitaph also has another purpose which I
personally found gimmicky and over-written but some might like).
Anyway The Salton Killings has a decent enough plot (one to which
Spencer returns – with far more assurance and aplomb – in one
of the two later books I have read, so it may be a favourite for her)
and is just good enough and interesting enough to make one want
to persevere. But I know she gets much better than this. Her ‘period
feel’ here is all a bit stretched; she is trying to do too much. And that
is probably true of the characterisation as well. The whole feel is
of a writer not really quite comfortable with either her period or
her characters. This is probably not surprising given that is the first
in the series.

(April 2008)