Murder at the Chase, out today, is the second book in the Langham and Dupré mystery series which began with Murder by the Book. The novels chart the relationship between the central character, the thriller writer Donald Langham, and his literary agent Maria Dupré. It’s also about the murders they solve along the way. In the first book, Langham and Dupré were embroiled in a series of killings committed by a disgruntled hack who was wreaking havoc in the literary world of London in 1955. The second volume takes the pair to a sleepy Suffolk village in the same year, to investigate the disappearance of a fellow writer, Edward Endicott.
One of the things I wanted to do in this novel, other than develop Langham’s relationship with Maria, and tell a rattling good murder mystery, was to write a story that debunks mysticism and the occult. Donald Langham is a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist and, like me, a rationalist: not for him a woolly belief in ghosties and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. There’s a scientific explanation for everything, even if first glance a rational explanation might not be that obvious.
In Murder at the Chase, Edward Endicott has vanished from a locked room, and his son Alasdair thinks that the evil Satanist Vivian Stafford might have had a hand in the affair. Alasdair firmly believes that Stafford – a cohort of Aleister Crowley and his fellow diabolists – is the possessor of occult powers, in league with the Devil, and that he’s behind Edward Endicott’s disappearance. Endicott senior is writing a book about the Satanist, and Alasdair believes that his father might have uncovered facts that Stafford would rather not come to light.
The mystery deepens when copious blood is discovered in the copse behind Endicott Chase, and all concerned assume that it is Edward who was the victim.
When the body of the Satanist Vivian Stafford is discovered, however, the chase is on to find his killer. Suspects include the Endicotts themselves, the local vicar, the mad artist Haverford Dent, and the retired American actress Caroline Dequincy.
The novel is in many respects a routine ‘cosy’ – though I don’t like that word – whodunit, set in rural England and featuring many of the standard tropes of the genre: vicars and tea parties, eccentric characters, thud and blunder, and the gradual unravelling of the mystery until the murderer is unmasked. But it’s also a character study of Donald and Maria as their love for each other deepens – with one or two hiccups along the way – and a vindication of Langham’s rationalist world view, as the shenanigans of the so-called Satanist Vivian Stafford are revealed to be nothing more than artifice, sham and ‘hand-waving’.
As with the first book, I had great fun writing this one. The characters took off, I loved the English setting, and it was a relief to be writing about a world familiar to readers. There was none of the world-building obligatory in most SF, no explication of futuristic science and technology – I could get on with telling the story.
I have a few ideas for further titles in the series: Murder at the BBC and Murder at the Castle being the next two, each following Langham and Dupré as they stumble into murder and mayhem, avoid the cudgels of those out for their blood, and look forward to their forthcoming marriage.
This piece first appeared on Upcoming4me.