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Andrew Taylor, The Mortal Sickness

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Andrew Taylor is a much admired and talented crime writer. This is the second in the Lydmouth series with an appreciation by H R F Keating that compared Taylor to PD James – famous the rendering of the murder mystery into such classics as “A Taste for Death”.

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Andrew TaylorAndrew Taylor is a much admired and talented crime writer. Since the publication of his crime books such as – The Barred Window (1993), The Roth Trilogy (1997-2000) and American Boy (2003) – Taylor has shown that British crime fiction can in range and power occupy the ground of the best literature. Since Andrew Taylor started publishing as a young man – and even the early books showed exceptional talent and ambition – it is not unlikely that he may soon be considered as perhaps the brightest as well as the most productive crime writer of his generation.

For the crime buff what makes Taylor an interesting and desirable author to collect is his obvious delight and energy at reconfiguring the crime genre. In the early 1980s when he began detective or crime fiction in Britain was a regarded by many critics as a stereotypical popular genre akin to adventure yarns and thrillers. Obviously, one can point to exceptions such as P D James, Reginald Hill and Ruth Rendell. But even they for many years remained within the convention and format of the genre. And so it was with Andrew Taylor. He first book introduced the sleuthing detective William Dougal, a protagonist you were not quite sure about. He now has five series and several tense, stand-alone thrillers – from spy fiction, historical mysteries, psychological tales and five Bergerac books. This is the second in the Lydmouth series set in a fictional locality – partly rural, partly town and loosely based on the Forest of Dean locale where Taylor has lived for many years. The leisurely pace and the gentle exploration of period setting and social attitudes are the main attraction of this murder mystery, which is also a why-dunnit.

Plotline: Ever since Agatha Christie, small English villages have been haunted by murder most foul, disturbing the peace and quiet of the countryside, upsetting the vicar’s wife, and lifting the edge of the lace curtains to show the darker sides of the eccentric inhabitants. So it is again with Andrew Taylor’s tale of a woman murdered in the church vestry, apparently during the theft of a medieval chalice. The village’s dirty secrets come gradually to light, in spite of the rather unskilled detective work of the distracted policeman leading the investigation and a nice but not terribly bright young newspaper reporter, who also provides some romantic tension.

The Mortal Sickness (1995) was issued in an edition of 75 signed and numbered copies and a small number of presentation copies. It contained an appreciation by H R F Keating that compared Taylor to PD James – famous for rendering the murder mystery into such classics as A Taste for Death.

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4.67 out of 5

3 reviews for Andrew Taylor, The Mortal Sickness

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rating by Amanda Craven on June 15, 2012 :

    Amanda Craven. twbooks.co.uk
    Jill Francis, a young journalist, discovers a body in St. John’s church whilst she is doing research for an article about the valuable Lydmouth chalice which is kept there. But it is there no longer, disappeared at the same time as poor Miss Kymin lost her life. So, Jill is involved from the beginning, and becomes more so as the police arrive and she has to contend with her mixed feelings for Inspector Richard Thornhill and the inconsistent way he acts towards her. She follows up her own hunches about the murder, gets in the way, discovers who is sending the poison pen letters to the vicar, gets in the way even more and eventually gets a nasty bump on the head which puts her out of the action for a while. Thornhill can’t help himself and visits her in hospital. His subordinates practise the art of motive analysis and, as Detective Constable Wilson says to Sergeant Kirby, ‘Maybe Thornhill’s sweet on her. Wants to see her in her negligee.’ Not much ‘Maybe’ about it I would have thought, but Thornhill continues on his tortured, confused way not knowing what he really wants. He certainly could have done with a course in ” Advanced Motive” to solve this case, if not his love life; everyone, from the vicar’s wife right down to the teenager, Jean, whose mother owns the house where Kirby lodges, has some kind of secret. Kirby himself becomes more involved than he realises when he allows the young and beautiful (but bad) heiress Jemima Orepool to work her charms on him. The case eventually solves itself as facts come to light, feelings come out into the open and true colours are shown. The characters act in character and not just for the convenience of plot development, which is a tribute to the skill of Mr Taylor. The period setting is well-done although I did get a little annoyed by continual references to things happening “since the war ” which tended to interrupt the flow and were unnecessary, the authors attention to detail being enough to place the story for the reader. I look forward to the next Lydmouth mystery, and suspect that Inspector Thornhill and Jill Francis will have to be thrown together a great deal more before matters develop sufficiently to bring about a satisfactory outcome to this particular case.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by A Work in Progress on June 15, 2012 :

    It’s been far too long since I read the first Inspector Thornhill mystery, An Air That Kills and after reading The Mortal Sickness, I’m going to make sure as much time doesn’t pass before I pick up the next book. I wonder why these stories haven’t been adapted to TV as they would make a great series. The characters are interesting with an electric tension between them that I think will continue to build over the course of each book. The setting, a post-WWII English village known as Lydmouth on the border of Wales, would provide stunning visuals no doubt. I’m probably biased since this is one of the periods I most like reading about, as there was so much of interest going on at the time. It seems as though Andrew Taylor has only written eight books in the Lydmouth series (the last one published in 2006) and unfortunately they don’t seem to have been published, or are no longer in print, here in the US. Used copies abound, however.
    The Mortal Sickness takes place not long after the events in the first book. Inspector Thornhill, a transplant from the Fens, must investigate the death of a local woman whose body is found in the vestry of the parish church. Jill Francis arrives just as the Vicar, Alec Sutton, has discovered the body and realizes that a priceless church heirloom has gone missing. Jill had been sent on an errand to the church to ask the measurements of the Chalice for an article she had been helping with when she stumbles in on the scene and immediately gets whiff of a possible story.
    Inspector Thornhill isn’t the only one newly arrived to Lydmouth. Jill, reeling after the breakup of a serious relationship and still recovering from an illness, accepted the invitation of her good friend Philip Wemyss-Brown and his wife Charlotte to come make a new start in Lydmouth. Philip and Jill had worked as journalists in London during the war, and while she’s close with the couple there are the beginnings of a strain on her relationship with Charlotte showing.
    Jill is intelligent and sophisticated but reserved and perhaps comes off as somewhat cold. Thornhill isn’t much friendlier and the two have clashed from the very beginning. Each finds the other’s methods of working disagreeable, yet there is an undeniable spark that neither is quite willing to accept. Upon arriving at the crime scene when Thornhill spots Jill a look of annoyance comes over his face and Jill thinks how he might be attractive if he weren’t so cross. A natty dresser for a policeman he might pass for a solicitor in other circumstances. Married with two children he and his wife enjoy a comfortable existence, but neither is particularly happy. He works too much and too long and she often puts him off when he is around.
    There are hints, and much gossip fueling the talk, that Catherine Kymin might have been having an affair with the vicar who is also fairly new to the village. The Suttons are not forthcoming about their personal life and doubt is thrown upon his explanations of his behavior. It doesn’t help that poison pen letters making accusations about his personal activities keep turning up. Quiet village life is never what it appears on the surface, and often the most insidious of deeds are done by those who are the least likely.
    This isn’t a story that will shock but one that slowly unravels to reveal dark secrets and misbehaviors.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Lydmouth and Taylor expands the cast just a bit to add a few more varying plotlines.  As with the first book I enjoyed the mystery, but I’m more intrigued by Jill and Thornhill whose feelings are so repressed I’m not even sure how much they realize they themselves have them for each other. Taylor has created an interesting world, and no doubt an authentic one. There’s still much civility between the sexes and unsaid rules as to how they can and should behave with each other. Yet the war changed so many things, sometimes turned a blind eye to who and how people related and interacted. And I can’t wait to see how things develop and change.
    A Work in Progress at: danitorres.typepad.com/…/03/mortal-sickness-by-andrew-taylor.html

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rating by H R F Keating on June 15, 2012 :

    Extract from H R F Keating’s Appreciation

    It was in 1972 that Julian Symons gave to Bloody Murder, his pioneering history of crime fiction, the sub-title From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel. The phrase was a neat summing-up of his well-reasoned account of the form’s development up to that time. Now, some twenty-three years later, we are beginning to see a yet more far-reaching step on the long, long course. Andrew Taylor’s The Mortal Sickness is a deep-set marker there. Its story, set immediately after World War II (though that fact is allowed to impinge only subtly, one of the book’s minor pleasures) is peppered with references to detective stories and their writers. They serve to point out to us that the book itself, though equipped with two murders, is by no means a detective story. But it is not even one of the crime novels Julian Symons hailed. It is a novel, purely and simply. We are going now from the detective story to the mainstream novel, back in fact to where it deviated from in the early years of this century. We see this most clearly when here, instead of any catchpenny last-minute revelation of who done it, the identity of the murderer is gradually borne in on us some time before the book ends. The detective, who is no superman, no comical eccentric, not even a ‘character’ but just a person like ourselves, puts it well: “we didn’t solve the case,” he says in the last pages, “it solved itself.” But when the quiet discovery takes place we feel no sense of let-down. But then one is fully aware that The Mortal Sickness has other fish to fry. The nature of those fishes is half made clear by the title Andrew Taylor has chosen from A E Housman, poet of the region in which the story is set. The book is a meditation on, or a confrontation with, the death that lies waiting for us all. “We all end in the same place,” the Vicar’s wife thinks at an early stage in the unravelling of events, and her mind fills with the sight of the first victim lying grotesquely dead in her husband’s church.

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