by Sharon Tucker
We at KRL are excited about this our first Earth Day issue! We are focusing on many different and unique ways that people can Go Green and help the environment including Green Markets, e-book publishing, and more. We hope you check out our Earth Day related articles, along with the other articles in this issue! You can also check out more Going Green articles in KRL’s Going Green section!
Earth Day approaches and many mystery readers are nothing if not topical readers, often getting an added fillip of pleasure from reading Christmas mysteries in December, American (or British) Colonial Mysteries in July, or Halloween mysteries in October (not forgetting that Guy Fawkes Day is also celebrated in this season). A good way to wade into spring and celebrate the earth is to read the subtle Malice novels of Graham Thomas, whose writing brings the British terrain of his novels as vividly to life as a Constable landscape might.
The best of British luck to you in ferreting out information regarding either the author or more than five of Thomas’s novels. Since “Graham Thomas” is a pseudonym, the most info I could find disclosed is that he is a biologist living in British Columbia—this from the author blurb on the last page of one of his paperbacks coupled with a small interview found in the last pages of his Powell novel set in London. Crime Fiction Canada online only lists his five titles: Malice in Cornwall (1998); Malice In The Highlands (1998); Malice On The Moore (1999); Malice In London (2000); Malice Downstream (2002). Right, while I completely respect the author’s’ privacy, one does long for more adventures of Detective-Chief Detective Superintendent Erskine Powell of New Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad.
Malice In The Highlands, Thomas’ debut mystery, begins with a day whose beauty perhaps only Robert Burns or a salmon fisherman could appreciate—a thickly misted, drizzling morning on the River Spey, a roiling, peaty, Guinness-like stage for the murder of a local laird. What ought to have been Powell’s much needed vacation from the tedious micro-management of his superior at the Yard (as well as from his wife’s “domestic Thatcherism”) turns into a murder investigation. The novel is a paean to fly-fishing, and though you may not know a dry fly from a pop fly, the fishing patter is far from dull, offering unique insight into a deeply quiet, fanatically structured sport. The reader looking for hard action, grisly goings-on, or edgy complexity is reading the wrong book. The beauty of Erskine Powell’s world is that, even if Powell can’t find peace from his profession, the reader is welcomed into the archetypically British pastoral landscape so many of us search for when reading British mysteries.
We move from the River Spey in Scotland’s Highlands, to the River Thames in Malice in London where Powell seems of W.B. Yeats mind—that “the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually . . . passing like a whiff of air.” He is forced to take on a no-win, cold-case investigation as punishment for a wrong political move within his department at the Yard. The corpse of a prominent politician involved in a dockside development scheme has been found drowned in the fabled river, and shortly thereafter, his equally prominent restaurateur partner, is likewise murdered—no clues, no suspects yet more than the usual pressure for results. As Powell combs London with little result initially, he treats readers to an atmospheric tour of the capital from the Thames dockside gentrification projects to the environs of much touted Bloomsbury and more. London is Powell’s professional home ground—and though his heart lies elsewhere, in more ways than one, his knack for seeing beneath the surface serves him as well here on this as on any other river.
In Malice Downstream, once again the plot revolves around the poetic sport of fly-fishing, this time on the River Test in the Hampshire village of Houghton Bridge. Powell finds himself “unofficially” investigating murder instead of vacationing and recuperating from his last case, embroiled in what turns out to be the deadly jockeying for membership in the world’s oldest and most exclusive fishing club, the Mayfly. Powell’s professional expertise is needed but not wanted, but he finds himself irresistibly drawn into the investigation. He finds himself relying on, not Scotland Yard’s customary carte blanche, but his own inductive devices deployed on the QT. The idyllic Hampshire countryside, so dear to the likes of Jane Austen, does not suffer in the hands of Graham Thomas whether Powell is “reading the river” Test or reveling in the delights of his favorite Indian restaurant, the K2—fresh papadums, samosas, and achari gosht.
No matter where Graham Thomas sets his novels across the breadth of Britain, if he or she is lucky, the reader will stroll through the splendors of his countryside with as much languid delight as Mrs. Ruth Wilcox, E.M. Foster’s lady of Howard’s End.
To continue our focus on e-books this issue, purchase the e-book version of Graham Thomas’ first book in this series: