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    SKELETON AT THE FEAST by Patricia Hall


    St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000/January 2002 (U.S.)

    DCI Michael Thackeray is sent back to Oxford, to the college where he'd studied, while his superiors work out what to do with the disaster of a case he left behind. Back at Yorkshire, his detectives try to get on with their lives and cope with the death of one of their own. All is not well at Oxford. His college, which has always hidden its crimes, has continued to do so but a missing professor, the professor's missing girlfriend, and considerable missing money compound Thackeray's old memories of a murder that took place when he was a student.

    Author Patricia Hall balances the Oxford mystery with the case of a 13-year old girl who was raped and beaten back in Yorkshire. Reporter, and Thackeray's girlfriend Laura serves as a bridge, spending weekends in Oxford with Thackeray and working on both cases.

    Virtually all of Hall's male characters are damaged, trying to make a life for themselves despite the loss of so much. Thackeray has never recovered from his years at Oxford, and now must relive that terrible time and the cover-up that he has never forgotten. His sergeant, Kevin Mower, is slowly self-destructing out of grief for the loss of his love. Strong women, Laura, her grandmother, and DC Val Ridley provide the strength to keep the males moving.

    Hall's writing is vivid and American readers are likely to enjoy her judicious use of Yorkshire dialect. The mysteries themselves are fairly anti-climactic, however. In particular, the the Oxford murders seem a little too disconnected. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop--but it never did. Likewise the Yorkshire mystery was quickly resolved once Thackeray returned to the job--so quickly that I wondered why it took so long in the first place. SKELETON AT THE FEAST is interesting and thought provoking, but needs a bit of sharpening to be a really compelling mystery.

    Two Stars

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