Sunday, August 19, 2018

Book Review: Murder in the Mind (Detective Inspector Skelgill Investigates Book 6) by Bruce Beckham

A Somewhat Abrasive Hero ‘Fishing’ for the Insight That Will Break the Case

Murder in the Mind is the sixth book in what is currently an eleven-book, British mystery series, each novel advertised as a standalone work.  This installment finds the series protagonist, DI Skelgill, called to an isolated, high-security, psychiatric hospital for a routine investigation.  But soon, concerns about petty pilfering are forgotten when inexplicable deaths and daring escapes enter the storyline.  Over the course of the rest of the book, Skelgill uses something akin to an abrasive, Socratic method to elicit thoughts and theories from his team only to discount or disregard them in most cases.  Eventually, however, he fits all of the pieces into the puzzle, gaining his insight while fishing … which appears to be a trademark for the series’ detective.

One of the strengths of the book is the description of the setting, in this case, the Lake District in northwest England.  As (bad) luck would have it, this story occurs during a rainy, dreary stretch of weather and you can almost feel the drizzle seep under your collar as you stand beside Skelgill on the banks of a lake.  The story is a bit slow starting, but then moves at a deliberate pace as the detective collects facts, then lets the solution form in his mind.  The murderer is somewhat obvious, but twists in the details are still good.

There were, however, a couple of aspects of the book that detracted.  One was the writing style.  Clearly, there is a thin line between clever turns of a phrase and wording that is mind-numbing, but for me, this book crossed over.  Consider the description of the hospital as “…an appellation that hints of Bedlam (albeit an authentic eponym – being built on the lower slopes of Hare’s Fell) and an outward appearance that is at once foreboding and forbidding.”  I could almost understand this type of wording if it reflected the protagonist’s speech, but Skelgill tends toward simple statements replete with British slang (although he can be obscure).  A second concern was point of view.  It is third person consistently, but sometimes the narrator knew what Skelgill was thinking and other times, he/she did not.  Whether or not we got a peek into the detective’s thoughts seemed random and so, became a bit distracting.

Overall, consistent use of point of view and more straightforward prose would have helped this otherwise prototypical British murder mystery.

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