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    Review of THE MISTRESS OF ALDERLEY by Robert Barnard


    Allison & Busby (U.K), 2002, Scribner (U.S.) 2003

    For retired actress Caroline Fawley, he was the great love of her life. Admittedly, he was still married, but Caroline knew that she was his true love. Although Marius Fleetwood could only see her on weekends, he acted the part of father to her children, accompanied her to social events, and even included his own children on the trips. Caroline believed that the people in her village were simply old-fashioned when they urged her to seek marriage. For her, being a mistress was the perfect solution.

    When Marius is found murdered, Caroline's perfect fantasy comes apart. The English police investigate, tracking down the activities of each of her family members, and the terrible truth begins to emerge. Marius lied to Caroline--and was planning a complete betrayal. The police are almost certain that Caroline was unaware of the betrayal, but someone certainly killed Marius.

    Author Robert Barnard (see more reviews of novels by Barnard) paints a very English scene with polite cops who have plenty of time to pursue the most trivial leads. Barnard's writing is highly engaging, drawing the reader into the story. The tone of the story shifts at the murder. Before, it was mostly Caroline's story. After the murder, it becomes that of Detective Sergeant Peace and Mike Oddie.

    Barnard's decision to base so much of the book on Caroline and Caroline's point of view weakens the reader's involvement with the characters of the police, consequently detracting from reader interest. Caroline might be a perfectly nice person, but she spends the first half the book in emotional denial and never really develops any strong motivation. As a reader, I want a character who is striving for something (which is normally perfect for a police mystery since the police are struggling to find the killer), but Caroline wasn't really looking for anything.

    Barnard's writing is strong enough to sustain reader interest despite his decision to focus on an unmotivated character, however. THE MISTRESS OF ALDERLEY makes for pleasant summer reading.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 7/11/03

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