Superstitious Death by
hbk out July 98
Published by Constable
D I Montague Pluke's enjoyment of Crickledale's annual ceremony of Shoggling the May - which he was instrumental in reviving - is cut short when he is called away to view the body of a young woman found in a shallow grave on a nearby farm. The injury sustained by the girl suggests murder, but the mirror found with the body tells Fluke that this is no ordinary death. His first task is to identify the woman and the investigation proceeds satisfactorily. The chief suspect is the owner of the farm, but he offers little help to the police. It is at this point that the Security Service intervenes and Fluke is ordered by his superiors to end his enquiry. To his credit he persists, believing that the farmer is not guilty, and pursues the case to its conclusion, revealing deductive skills which surprise his superiors.
Montague Fluke does not look much like a detective. He wears a Panama hat, an old yellowish-brown jacket, blue dicky bow and half-mast drainpipe narrow trousers. He is fussy and pedantic. He does not believe that senior officers should socialise with subordinates or call them by their first names. He makes an exception with his sergeant, Wayne Wain, who is always "Wayne". He is also very superstitious and comes out with odd pieces of lore, such as, for example, that a Saturday new moon is not a good omen as it heralds bad fortune. The mirror in the grave in his view, and rightly, points to a Swedish connection and it is this which implicates the farmer, Eric Burholme.
The book is often very funny and told in a deliberately stilted style that would have met with the approval of Miss Ivy Compton-Burnett, Worthy of note are the several addresses Montague Fluke makes to his troops, standing on a desk in his bizarre outfit. And it is no surprise that Wayne Wain can say at one point; "You are inclined to the notion that her intended destination was Harman's Farm, aren't you, sir?" While the "Sergeant Cockfield pronounced Cofield" joke, confined to authorial narrative in the earlier book, is now to be found in the speeches of Pluke and Wain. It may not be realistic, but it is very amusing, like the absurd ceremony of Shoggling the May.