Sunday, January 26, 2014

Henrietta Who?: Catherine Aird


Henrietta Who? is a police procedural, set in the small village of Larking in England, published in 1968 by Catherine Aird. Her protagonist is Inspector C.D. Sloan of the Calleshire C.I.D. The locations are fictional but so well described that they feel real.

This was another short book (about 150 pages), with a very interesting premise. Grace Jenkins is the victim of a hit-and-run, initially assumed to be an accident. Her daughter Henrietta is called home from college but it turns out that she cannot be Grace's daughter because the woman has never had a child. Thus, all that the young woman thought she knew about her identity, and her parents, may be in question.

This is the story of the quest for a murderer where not much is known about the victim. But it is also the story of a very young woman coming to terms with questions about her parents and her origins. And a lovely picture of a village as described in this excerpt from the book:
   An outsider would have said Larking was typical of a thousand other English villages. And, as it happened, this was true, though the people of Larking wouldn't have liked it. It had all the appurtenances of a normal village and the usual complement of important-and self-important-people: two different groups.
   Spiritual leadership was provided by the Reverend Edward Bouverie Meyton (his father had been an admirer of Pusey). He lived at the Rectory on the green by the church (one Diocesan leaflet, three appeals, a Missionary newsletter, the quarterly report of the Additional Curates' Society and an interesting letter from the Calleshire Historical Association).
   Secular leadership came from James Augustus Heber Hibbs, Esquire, at The Hall (an assortment of bills, two closely typed pages of good advice from his stockbroker, a wine list, a picture postcard from his cousin Maude, and a letter from Scotland about a grouse moor).
   Harry Ford, postman, was not deceived. He knew as well as anyone else that real power-as opposed to leadership- was vested behind the counter at the Post Office cum General Store in the vast person of Mrs. Ricks (one seed catalogue: Mrs. Ricks rarely committed herself to paper).
   Larking shared a branch of the Women's Institute with the neighbouring hamlet of Belling St. Peter (Mrs. Hibbs was president) and a doctor with a cluster of small communities round about.
   And everyone thought they knew everything about everyone else.
   In which they were very mistaken.
A review of Aird's only non-series novel, A Most Contagious Game, in the book 1001 Midnights, by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller, has this to say about Aird's Inspector Sloan series:
   Catherine Aird excels at portraying the English countryside’s village life with all its petty prejudices, the gentry and near-gentry, and the castles and ruins that dot the landscape.
   Her series sleuth, Inspector C. S. Sloan, deals with them in the fond yet frustrated manner of a native. Sloan is competent yet low-key, a good foil for the oddities of the suspects.
I liked this book a lot and I recommend it.  The search for the murderer, and why behind the murder, is well plotted. There are clues, although I missed them. I suppose the culprit may have been easy to guess for some, but I wasn't close to guessing the solution.

The characters were interesting, and for the most part likable. Sloan is often irritated with the ambitious but plodding assistant assigned to him, and his chief is aggravating, but I found all of them entertaining characters. I don't want to gush, but I found Aird's writing witty and charming, without being sentimental or silly.

This is the 2nd book in a series that now includes 23 books. I have read the first one, The Religious Body, published in 1966, and the third, The Stately Home Murder (aka The Complete Steel).  I liked both. The last book (so far) in the series was published in 2013.

Other resources:
  • Catherine Aird is the pseudonym of Kinn Hamilton McIntosh. The website of Rue Morgue Press, the publisher of the edition I read, has a detailed article about the author, if you would like to know more.
  • There is a nice review of Henrietta Who? at Mystery File, which has a great cover image and an image of a map included in the original hardback edition (which I wish I could afford to own).


17 comments:

  1. I think I have a Catherine Aird on my shelf! I'm off to look, Tracy!

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    1. Hope you find a book by Aird, Peggy. I am sure you would enjoy them.

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  2. Tracy, surprisingly enough this one appeals to me, when I didn't think it would. Is there something wrong with me? I may go and look it up, it seems like I could enjoy this without getting seduced by the whole series, thanks.

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    1. I am surprised, Col. This one does have a unique story, and the first three I have read are all a bit different. And yes, I do think you could sample the series here and there and enjoy it.

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  3. Tracy - This is a good series. I like the Sloan character, and I agree that Aird creates solid characters. I also like the fact that the mysteries tend to be solid. Glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. Margot, I like all the policemen in this series and in this particular book, I found the other characters to be very good too. Looking forward to more books by Aird.

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  4. Thanks TracyK - I have yet to try Aird but it really sounds worthwhile - ta!

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    1. Definitely worth a try, Sergio. I don't know how the later books compare but I have liked the early ones.

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  5. I read this one fairly recently (though didn't blog about it for some reason) and enjoyed it. I felt she had a light touch, and I liked the Inspector's relationship with his assistant. I've already read another one in the series, and I expect I will carry on taking one in every now and again. I don't know how I've missed them all these years...

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    1. Moira, this does seem like a series you would like. I had her books for years before I tried the first one. And it still took me a while to get to books two and three, which I like even better.

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  6. I know I've heard of her but have never read her. Honestly, can't say if I will anytime soon. Too many books.

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    1. Keishon, I don't blame you, with all the other authors and books out there.

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  7. Tracy, the cover of your book was enough to make me want to read this book (and author) at some point in future. I like stories with village settings. There is something quaint about them.

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    1. Prashant, this is definitely the perfect series for the village setting. Have you tried the Caroline Graham mysteries, also set in villages?

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    2. Tracy, I'm afraid I haven't read anything by Caroline Graham. Hopefully, it won't be that way for long.

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  8. I just bought her first one and look forward to a CA adventure!

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    1. Great, Nan, I hope you like it. I haven't read that one in a while but I remember liking it.

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