Review: Passing Strange by Catherine Aird
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
You’d be hard-pressed to find something more wholesome than a country flower show. At least, that’s how it would seem at first glance. Initial appearances tend to be misleading though. Bitter feuds might erupt over a horticultural society member using furniture polish on his apples. Or over a judge choosing evidently inferior tomatoes over tomatoes that have consistently won in their category. Or the fortune teller could be murdered…
Nurse Joyce Cooper is seemingly beloved of all the village. When she goes missing from her tent while telling fortunes and is subsequently found dead, the community is bewildered. Called in to solve the mystery, Detective Inspector Sloan soon finds that there may be more to the story than meets the eye. A wealthy local landowner has recently passed away. With her estate entailed upon the nearest heir, the matter doesn’t seem to be of much importance, until it comes to light that there are two claims to the inheritance. Nurse Cooper might have been the only person who could positively identify one of the claimants, validating her claim to the estate. Or, she might have been the one person who could deny the claim. In order to solve the mystery, Sloan will have to find out which it is and who might have a stake in the estate aside from the claimants.
Catherine Aird’s Sloan and Crosby series is the perfect blend of cosy crime and police procedural. While the first in the series was published in the mid-sixties, Passing Strange, the ninth book was written in nineteen-eighty. It retains much of the charm that crime novels of an earlier era exuded, alongside some significantly more modern ideas. The portrayal of the media that consumes these grisly crimes is much more suited to the eighties; while the circumstances revolving around the crime – an unknown heiress, an archaeologist killed by a violent tribe, a years’ long family quarrel – belong to the classic era of crime.
This far along in the series, most of the major character dynamics are established. Sloan is a dedicated detective with dryly humorous insight into the world and the people around him. He’s perpetually stuck between the demanding but unhelpful Superintendent Leeyes and the slow-witted and slightly negligent Detective Constable Crosby. Sloan isn’t touted as some sort of genius detective, but he’s methodical and knows how to get the most out of each scrap of information that comes up.
Aird’s writing style, settings, characters and atmosphere combine to create a novel that a reader can feel at home in. She doesn’t cut corners and hold information back to wow readers at a pivotal point, but lets readers in on all the clues that Sloan has. These classic crime novels deserve more recognition than they have.
Passing Strange – Catherine Aird
Open Road Media (November 1, 1980)