Aline Templeton: Lying Dead
(3rd in the Marjory Fleming series – 2007)

A man recently released from prison, working as
a forester, finds a body near his isolated cottage –
to his horror it turns out to be that of an ex-girlfriend
who helped send him to prison. He moves the body deep
into the forest, but it is not fated to remain undiscovered
for long. Meanwhile Marjorie Fleming is facing problems
both personal (her father has Alzheimer’s) and professional
(divisions in her team). And in the sailing village of
Drumbreck where rich Glaswegians come to party and
play there are tensions between the locals and the
in-comers.

Templeton’s Darkness and the Deep was my favourite Britmyst
of 2006 and announced Templeton’s arrival as a major mystery
writer, following up the highly promising signs of the opening
book in the series, Cold in the Earth. So I came to this book
with great expectations; and Templeton did not disappoint.
She is not going to take the top-spot again because we have
had a new Hill DandP – but this is still a magnificent book.
Templeton has got it all – she is a great plotter (and this book
is the most surprising of all; I completely failed to see the solution
though in retrospect it made perfect sense), has a wonderful gift for
character and above all is creating a landscape, an area, which is
uniquely her’s – part real, part invented – a landscape and area
which is always interacting with and shaping both story and
characters, a landscape which is both particular and yet able to
reflect many current social issues. (That is also set in my own
favourite part of the world adds, of course, to my pleasure.)

In Marjory Fleming she has created a great protagonist –
one with whom one can both identify and yet at times dislike,
stand back from. She is flawed in easily comprehensible ways,
yet still enough of a heroine. Templeton can sail near to stereotype
but always manages to find some neat individual touch or quirk which
prevents her colliding with it. She is a cliche destroyer – a couple of
lovely examples from this book…first there are people who watch
and enjoy television programmes – if I had to list my awful cliches
of Britmyst writing number one would be people saying they hated/
had nothing to watch/were bored by television – oh sure! That’s why
its what most people do in their spare time! And then
another – Marjory goes to Manchester and stays in a hotel –
far from being appalled by its soulless anonymity (another top
10 cliche) she is delighted by the sparkling bathroom and
fluffy towels (as I always am :)). It is this sort of counter-cliched,
very human writing which makes Templeton such an excellent
social commentator. I am not saying she always gets it spot on –
as ever teenagers are a problem – but I never feel that horrible
embarrassment at the inadequacy of the sociology, or that sinking
feeling as another cliche hits the page, which I encounter so often
elsewhere. And she can write beautifully too…a real gift for the
unexpected
…take ‘Paddy Riley was to organised crime in Glasgow what Alex Ferguson
was to Manchester United’ :).

As we have been talking of prologues let me also mention this
one (even if it is not separately delineated – and it does have
italics Yvonne – but in the right place!). Our forester is only alerted to
the presence of something strange
by the fact that he hears a mobile ring; when he tracks it he finds the
body;
he then recognises the woman as the one who put him in prison.
Again we have a familiar situation (woman’s body in wood) made wholly
new by the mobile and then the recognition – the latter of which plunges
us straight into a peculiar mystery.

The book is a long one but certainly not too long. Every sub-story and
character has a life and interest of their own. And, unless you are one of
those brilliant people who can work out whodunit, you will remain as baffled
as both Marjory and me until the dramatic – and tense – denouement. One
crucial issue is left hanging at the end and, although fairly confident of
the
outcome, I cannot wait for the next book, scheduled for 2008, to re-assure
me.

How does the book compare to The Darkness and The Deep? Is Templeton
advancing? This is difficult because the central plot conception, the crime,
which
dominated Dand D was amongst the most inventive and memorable I have ever
read.
Both emotionally and intellectually, at the individual and social level, it
dominated the book.
But the weakness of DandD was the resolution – a resolution which as far as
I can
see was unguessable (and therefore ‘unfair’) and a tad cliched. Lying Dead
is almost
opposite to this. The murders themselves are common-place. But the solution
is,
as I have noted, both fair and yet stunning. It is a brilliant piece of
plotting –
emotionally and intellectually satisfying. I say emotionally because there
were
points in the book where I felt Templeton was tending, tending only, to the
conventional.
Do not be fooled! So yes Lying Dead takes the series forward – by the end
of the book this is very clear. Templeton continues to grow as a writer even
though she may never again invent as wonderful a murder as that of DandD.

A magnificent addition to what is now a truly indispensable Britmyst series.

(November 2007)

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