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I’m trying to remember the last time I enjoyed a police procedural this much. I think it was Ice by Ed McBain. This book is that good.

Alan Fletcher fought in the Falklands and war changed him from the youngest and most promising adjutant in the Welsh Guards to a man who upon returning home failed at soldiering, failed at hosting a B&B, failed at property management, failed at marriage, failed at everything until he ended his life with his hands tied behind his back, forcibly inhaling brick dust, suffocation leading to a fatal heart attack. Enter DI Nick Dixon (love the name), who is called in when Fletcher’s body is found in a WWII pillbox by the side of a canal. It’s definitely murder but with no suspect, no motive and no obvious clues.

Boyd is one of those rare crime fiction authors who make you feel like you’re on an actual case with an actual detective. It is a long, patient, painstaking teasing out of the details of Fletcher’s lives, the one lived in Devon and the one lived at war, and then the bodies begin to pile up all over southern England. There is plenty of misdirection and red herrings (I was so sure I knew what was going on and I so didn’t) and you get a real feeling for how frustrating so much of real police work must be and how many dead ends must be driven up their very last mile before the right track is the only one left. I am reminded of a Michael Gilbert quote

[A murder investigation] is a system which involves an enormous amount of work for a large number of people, and has only got one thing in its favor. It is nearly always successful in the end.

It is here, too, and the writing is excellent, direct, spare, never a needless word, with wonderful little bits of dialogue that do nothing to detract from the narrative and everything to illuminate the life, job and character of the professional policeman.

“And what about you, Inspector? Do you believe?”
“It’s difficult, Father, when you see what I see,” replied Dixon. “D’you mind if I sit for a while?”
“Not at all. So you do believe in God?”
“Let’s just say we have an understanding.”

and

He spotted the spyhole in the front door just in time and turned his back. Better still to give Colonel Byrne no time to compose himself.

and

“…there are three sides to every story…The two sides and then the truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.”

I like the way Nick uses his cell phone to google everything, I like that in this time of so many books being written about veterans coming home from the Sandbox that Boyd chose to write of a Falklands veteran (it may have been a little war but men still died), and the first chapter is so creepy it hangs there like a ghost in the back of your mind, impossible to ignore, until the author exorcises it with, yes, another murder.

This is the sixth in the Nick Dixon series and I am definitely going to read the first five. Recommended.

***Spoiler:

Here’s how to say mesothelioma, because a six-syllable motive for murder is a fine thing and we should give it its due by pronouncing it properly. I bet Boyd created a macro so he wouldn’t have to write it out every time he used it.