Workmen in the small market town of Lydmouth are demolishing an old cottage. A sledgehammer smashes into what looks like a solid wall. Instead, layers of wallpaper conceal the door of a locked cupboard which holds a box – and in the box is the skeleton of a young baby.
Items within the box suggest that the baby was entombed early in the nineteenth century, but when another man is also found dead, the evidence suggests that the baby’s death is more recent and that a killer is on the loose. For Journalist Jill Francis, newly arrived from London, this looks like her first story to chase …
This melancholy tale is set in a small town a few years after the second world war. Lydmouth is a place where everyone knows everybody else. The class system is alive and well, even though it is now much harder to find women willing to clean for their “betters.” Into this parochial atmosphere arrives London journalist Jill Francis whose nervous disposition on the train belies the confidence you would expect from her career. Staying with old friend Phillip and his stately wife Charlotte, a pillar of the community, she soon meets the other new inhabitant of the town. Richard Thornhill is a recently appointed Police Inspector trying to find his feet in the new job. His boss is a stereotypical Police Chief who likes to take credit for the work others have done. Meanwhile his wife Edith is worn out with housework and caring for two children, wishing her husband could be at home for longer hours.
The initial investigation concerns a box discovered on a building site which contains bones of a baby, a Victorian brooch and a newspaper scrap. A local historian attributes it to a murderer who lived in the building many years earlier and of course there is no DNA evidence to help with dating.
Meanwhile we find ourselves inside the heads of the other protagonists. The historian, Harcutt, lives alone in a large messy house with his dog, drinking more than is good for his advanced age. Reluctantly, his daughter, Antonia, is summoned to care for him and it is evident that there is no love lost between them. Local ne’er do well, Charlie Meague, who discovered the old box, is worried about his old mother’s health and he is also hoping he won’t be found by gangster “Genghis” Carn.
When a burglary and an unexpected death occur, it is only the beginning of dreadful events and Thornhill is determined to find the guilty. The plot moves slowly until the last few chapters, but it is beautifully revealed in excellent characterisation and telling dialogue. The reader is given sufficient information to be a few steps ahead of the detective and the vignettes of life leading up to a Remembrance Day denouement are delightful. Andrew Taylor’s beautiful prose will certainly tempt me to pick up the next episode of the Lydmouth Crime Series.
An Air That Kills on Amazon UK
My Review of The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor