Past tense – Catherine Aird


Catherine Aird has been writing detective novels for more than 20 years. Her long running series of English police procedurals features Detective Inspector C D Sloan (Seedy to his friends) & his hapless assistant, D C Crosby. The books are set in Calleshire, a fictional English county. Aird’s books are in the great tradition of the classic English detective novel. A provincial setting, an engaging detective plagued by an enthusiastic but irritating offsider & a Superintendent who goes to evening classes (until he’s expelled for arguing with the tutor) & has a quotation from the classics for every occasion. Even the crimes & their motives are classic, in this case, the death of an old lady & an inheritance.

Josephine Short dies in a posh nursing home. Her great nephew William & his wife, Janet, had had no contact with her & didn’t even know that she was living so close to them. Josephine’s family had disowned her many years before & she had no contact with them. When Josephine’s grandson, Joe, turns up to the funeral, the cause of the family rift is revealed. Josephine had an illegitimate child & her family had thrown her out. Her son & daughter-in-law died in a plane crash some years before & Joe is the sole heir. If he had died before his grandmother, William would inherit as his grandfather had been the only one of the family to stay in touch with Josephine. Josephine’s room at the nursing home is broken into after her death but nothing is taken. The only sign that anyone had been there is a broken vase. Then, her grave is disturbed & her rings are stolen. Were the rings the target of the break-in?

Sloan & Crosby are called away from the nursing home by the discovery of a young woman’s body in the river. She has no identification on her but when a nurse at the local hospital is reported missing, it turns out to be the dead woman, Lucy Lansdown. When Sloan searches Lucy’s house, he’s surprised to find the details of Josephine’s funeral marked in the local paper & it turns out that Lucy was at the funeral. What was the connection between the two women?

This is a great addition to this series which I’ve been reading & enjoying for many years. The first book in the series, A Religious Body, was published in 1966, so Sloan & Crosby are in the great tradition of detectives who never grow old (or get promoted, or sacked in the case of the incompetent Crosby) but that’s what’s so reassuring about this type of book. Catherine Aird constructs ingenious plots with lots of motives & possible suspects. Reading Past tense is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

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