by Jo Bannister
Review: In a time of less political correctness, Gabriel Ash would have been called the village idiot. People overlook how educated and articulate he is; they only see a very confused man who walks around town with a white dog. Rambles with Dogs, they call him, a play on Dances with Wolves. After he's badly beaten in the park by thugs, he refuses a trip to the hospital proffered by Hazel Best, the town's newest Detective Constable, who then places him in a jail cell to recover from his ordeal. Also in his cell is Jerome Cardy, who was apprehended by the police for leaving the scene of crime. In Ash's hazy state, he hears Cardy tell him that his — Cardy's — life is in danger and he wants Ash to tell someone later that his death was not an accident. And he leaves Ash with a cryptic clue as to how he knows this … in Deadly Virtues, a stand-alone mystery — though one that should serve as the first in a series — by Jo Bannister.
Ash learns later that Cardy was, indeed, killed by Barking Mad Barclay, another person locked up in the cells that night, who went — predictably — berserk and took it out on the person nearest to him. An unfortunate accident, the police on duty say, one that simply could not have been predicted or prevented. And everyone accepts explanation … until Ash confides in Constable Best, telling her that Cardy knew he was going to be killed that night.
Hazel Best harbored a faint unease about discounting what Gabriel Ash had told her. It made no sense, and it came from a man who was clearly unreliable, and yet …
Deadly Virtues is an exceptionally well-crafted mystery, headlined by two extraordinary leads — Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best — who are about as endearing as characters come. (Ash's dog Patience comes in a very close third.) The murder mystery storyline is clever and deceptively simple in that all the reasonable explanations for how and why the crime was committed seem so improbable that they can hardly be true. (The plot is slightly overcomplicated towards the middle of the book, and probably unnecessarily so … but this is a minor quibble.)
It would be a crime, as it were, if these characters did not make a return appearance. The final paragraphs illustrate what great chemistry all three — yes, including Patience — have:
[As Hazel is preparing dinner for Ash, who is again recovering from a beating in which his fingers have been badly broken, she is searching in his home for a can opener to open a can of dog food for Patience.]
"Try the top drawer in the hall bureau. I was using the bottle opener bit."
Hazel made a mental note. "You do know that most dog food comes in ring-pull cans, don't you?" she asked tartly.
"Patience prefers the other sort."
"Why am I not surprised?" Hazel couldn't however stop herself from smiling. She got up to leave, then on an impulse leaned forward quickly and kissed his forehead. "Get better. She's missing you. Well — we both are."
He was so surprised at the kiss that she was at the door before he called after her. "Anything else you can't find, ask Patience. She knows where everything's kept."
Hazel paused and looked over her shoulder at him. "As a matter of fact," she said stiffly, "I did ask Patience. She was no help. She must have forgotten about the bottle opener."
"Either that," murmured Ash to her departing back, "or she fancied your stew."
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of Deadly Virtues for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Deadly Virtues: England
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Deadly Virtues by Jo Bannister
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 2013
List Price: $24.99
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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