A few weeks back I read The Reaper by Peter Lovesey and enjoyed this crime novel so much I was inspired to check the library to see what other gems they were harbouring by this author. One of the books I came up with was The Sedgemoor Strangler, a volume of short stories.
Sixteen stories are included in this book and the author says in his introduction that, if there is a theme, it is that of the perfect murder and that, in most of the stories decent, law abiding people are plunged into events outside their normal experience.
The title story, The Sedgemoor Strangler, is set in the area of Somerset known as the Somerset levels. A barmaid has been killed and we witness her murder but are not told who the murderer is. Next we meet Alison who is a barmaid at The Jellied Eel in Bridgwater. Tony, a new, well off customer, with a chauffeur driven Mercedes starts to date her and we follow her story as another body is found and the pub's customers start to speculate that Tony might be the killer. Eventually the police come to the same conclusion but Alison just cannot believe it...
This quite long story was a real gem. I got very wrapped up in the mystery and, being rather local to The Levels myself, found it very atmospheric and spot on with the details. I thought I'd guessed who the culprit was but of course I was completely wrong... miles off course. An excellent start to the anthology.
The title story was followed by a very mixed bag of stories indeed.
Dr. Death is a rather creepy Victorian tale of a woman trapped upstairs in a house with a serial killer downstairs, who has just murdered her husband.
The Four Wise Men is a very nice little Sherlock Holmes story. It's Christmas and Dr. Watson receives a letter from an old regimental friend asking him to come down to Somerset to help protect a precious star that is carried in the nativity procession. He has a suspicion that someone may attempt to steal it. Holmes, of course, accompanies the good doctor.
The Amorous Corpse tells of a post office robbery where the post mistress refuses to hand over the money and the culprit keels over with a heart attack. Except that the culprit's girlfriend, after identifying the body, tells the police that, at the time of the incident the dead man was actually still in bed with her...
The Problem of Stateroom 10 is another little gem. A group of men on a sea voyage, one of whom is a writer, challenge the writer to write a story about the perfect murder. Unbeknown to them, that is exactly what the writer is planning: the perfect murder. This one had two twists that I didn't see coming at all.
The Kiss of Death is a Peter Diamond story; the author has written quite a few books about this detective, none of which I've read yet. This one was set in New York at Christmas, involved the mysterious death of a lecherous senior partner of a firm of accountants, and was really rather good.
The final story, Murdering Max, is a bit of a spoof story involving the author himself. He thinks he has written the one and only 'youdunnit' story (where the murderer is the reader) of the century and about to be lauded for this, because it's a very difficult thing to do, when it turns out a Frenchman has also produced one. It's November 1999, just in time to be squeezed in before the 20th century ends. What does Lovesey do?
Of all the stories, just a couple didn't work for me - they were well told but I felt the endings were a bit off. Otherwise I can honestly say that this was a really excellent collection of crime stories, very varied in settings and style, with many twists and turns, hardly any of which I guessed at and a couple of which actually made me say 'Oh!' out loud. Highly and unreservedly recommended.
This book qualifies for two challenges - J.Kaye's Support your local Library and the Book Awards challenge being hosted by 1morechapter.com.