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Read Skeleton In The Grass (2007)

Skeleton in the Grass (2007)

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3.64 of 5 Votes: 2
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1933397810 (ISBN13: 9781933397818)
felony & mayhem

Skeleton In The Grass (2007) - Plot & Excerpts

More social commentary than mystery, this is a short, intriguing portrait of life between the wars. Sarah Causeley comes to Hallam Park to be a governess for the youngest child of an aristocratic family of pacifists. She’s enchanted by their kindness and acceptance as well as by their intellectual conversations. It’s all gracious living, tea on the lawn, and lively discussions of philosophy and literature and politics. The thing is, the real world hovers only vaguely outside the perimeter of Hallam Park. With a consciously well-bred effort the Hallams put up with tedious relatives and neighbors, but they have no interest in the locals and local matters. However, they can’t prevent ugly aspects of the outside world being thrust upon them (or else there’d be no story). One son enlists to fight in the Spanish Civil War – a big blow to the parents – and village lads wage a nasty campaign against the family. Their efforts are targeted mostly at Mr. Hallam, whose service in the Great War was suspect. Plus he gets sick at the sight of blood, and what sort of namby-pamby Englishman does that? Eventually one of the vicious pranks turns fatal...but how? And why?? There's a vivid contrast between the local yokels who are only too easily goaded into terrorizing Hallam Park ("just a bit o' fun") and the benign, clever Hallams. The story could easily become an example of Ignorant Masses versus Gentle Intellectuals, but it doesn’t go that route. As kind as the Hallams are to Sarah, they’re not terribly sympathetic, partly because their pacifist beliefs are particularly naïve and irresponsible considering what the neighboring nations were up to in 1936, and partly because intellectual snobbery is obnoxious even when it’s gracefully presented. For me the real mystery was not so much who done it, but whether Sarah was going to remain charmed by the family for the entire novel. Interesting story and good writing.

Robert Barnard has always been one of my favorite British mystery writers. He wrote two types: first, the humorous, satirical cozy and second, the type of book this is, a more serious suspenseful novel with a political edge. I generally prefer his lighter books because he does humor so well, but this novel concerning the British gentry between the wars as seen through the eyes of a young governess, was very well done. It's also an examination of conscientious objection and how it affected the members of a particular family. I did not foresee the murderer's identity until the end so Barnard's ability to fool the reader shines through once again just as the writer he admired and analyzed in his tribute to her, "A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie."

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