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.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:
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
- 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).