A Talent for Destruction – Sheila Radley

Sheila Radley wrote 10 detective novels in the 1980s & 90s featuring Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Quantrill. The books are set in the fictional town of Breckham Market, set in Suffolk but based on her home town of Diss in Norfolk. I vaguely remember the series from my library but I’ve really only discovered them through the reprints by the wonderful US publisher, Felony & Mayhem. So far, they’ve reprinted nos 1,2,3 & 5 (why not 4?) & I’ve read the first 3. A Talent for Destruction is the 3rd in the series & I think it’s the most impressive.

I love mysteries set in villages & small towns, especially if they have a churchy element. A Talent for Destruction ticks all those boxes & it begins in winter, my favourite season for mystery & murder. DCI Quantrill is a middle-aged man, married with teenage children. His son, Peter, is a bit of a tearaway & has been accused of vandalising the local community hall. The investigation will be undertaken by someone else but Quantrill visits the Rector, Robin Ainger, to discuss the problem. He also meets Gillian Ainger, seemingly the perfect clergy wife. The Aingers are well-respected in their parish, hard-working & always available to help with any problem. Their personal relationship seems a little strained by Gillian’s father who lives with them & is becoming a little senile. When two boys interrupt Quantrill’s visit with the news that they’ve uncovered a skeleton while tobogganing in a nearby field, Quantrill investigates the case.

He’s immediately suspicious that the Aingers know more than they’re admitting but they stick to their story & he can’t shift them. The body is that of Athol Garrity, an Australian backpacker travelling in Europe who camped in the field with the Aingers’ permission during the previous summer. Another Australian, Janey Rolfe, had also become a frequent guest at the Rectory after befriending Gillian. Janey was a student who moved on to the US around the same time that Athol disappeared. Could there be any connection? Who had a motive for killing Athol? He was a loud young man, obnoxious when drunk, but he seemed to have only a very limited connection with the Aingers.

What lifts this novel from a more conventional police procedural is the lengthy flashback section in the middle that takes us back to the summer before, when Athol & Janey arrive. This section takes us inside the Ainger’s marriage & begins to explain the tension Quantrill was aware of when he first meets them. The solution to the mystery is very satisfying.

I feel in the mood for murder at the moment. I have a lot of mysteries on the tbr shelves & when I was moving them around the other day I picked up A Talent for Destruction. Anyone interested in classic British mysteries should have a look at Felony & Mayhem’s website. They’ve reprinted many classic authors from the Golden Age such as Margery Allingham & Edmund Crispin. They’ve also reprinted authors from the 70s & 80s who have fallen out of print. Sheila Radley is one, but they also have Caroline Graham’s Midsomer Murders books, Robert Barnard (another of my favourites) & Reginald Hill.

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