Aline Templeton: Lamb to the Slaughter (2008)
4th in the Marjory Fleming series

When Andrew Carmichael is shot dead DI Fleming is
confronted with an array of suspects; Carmichael owned
the land on which ‘ALCO’ proposed to build a new
supermarket – a proposal which had sharply divided
opinion in the small market town of Kirkluce. This is not
Fleming’s only problem; side-kick sergeant Tam MacNee is
still recovering from the head injury he sustained in
the previous book (LYING DEAD), and her daughter
Cat is associating with some local yobs. And what is
the significance of the dead sheep which was dumped
in the courtyard of the Craft Centre which Andrew
Carmichael sponsored a few days before his murder?

In 2006 Templeton’s DARKNESS AND THE DEEP was my mystery
of the year. In 2007 she lost out to Hill and possibly Walters
(it is almost inevitable that everyone will always lose
out if there is a new Hill DandP!) but I still wrote of

>>A magnificent addition to what is now a truly indispensable Britmyst

So how does LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER measure up? Well, in truth,
by the standards of the previous two books there is some disappointment
here. This was probably inevitable. DARKNESS featured one of
the cleverest and most shocking murders I have ever encountered
in a mystery, and LYING DEAD had a truly brilliant solution. In LAMB
the method is routine (shooting) and while the solution is very clever,
even now I am not quite sure that Templeton wholly convinces in
psychological terms. It would be impossible to discuss this fully
without spoilers so I shall just have to leave this as a vague caveat.
Against this, as with LYING DEAD, in plot and textual terms the
solution is wonderfully logical and makes complete sense
intellectually. Templeton has become a great mystery plotter.

There are some great strengths within the book. The description of
the feelings of an elderly woman as she is terrorised by the local
yobs are brilliantly and movingly done. The integration of the
supermarket story in the first half of the book is excellent and
a classic piece of the kind of ‘sociological suspense’ at which
Templeton – in her very precise location – excels. The Galloway
locations are, as ever, a joy. Against this Marjory’s private life
in this book is, while of considerable interest for series fans,
less well integrated and less compelling than in previous
series books. Some of the characterisation is a little
loose and there is one character in particular – the
‘tortured artist’ who even a fan such as me cannot but
describe as sadly stereotypical.

In conclusion there can be little question that LAMB TO
THE SLAUGHTER is not of the quality of the previous
two books in the series. This does not mean that it is
not intensely readable, highly involving and with an
intellectually satisfactory mystery plot. I will certainly not
revise my view that Templeton is the front rank of
current British mystery writers on the basis of what is,
probably inevitably, a rather weaker book than previous
series entries. Let us hope that the 2009 book – DEAD IN
THE WATER – will see her back in top form.

(November 2008)