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Unlucky for Some

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This book marks the 13th outing (nothing unlucky there, eh?) for Jill McGown’s detectives Lloyd and Hill. Selected by The Times of London as one of the twentieth century’s “100 Masters of Crime,” McCown’s detectives aren’t amateur sleuths; they’re a somewhat mismatched pair whose relationship has developed over the course of their adventures. At this point, the occasionally quarrelsome husband and wife team are married with a toddler, and Lloyd tolerates the fact that his wife’s mother now lives with them.

Their relatively quiet lives in the English South Coast are shattered when Wilma Fenton is bludgeoned to death after winning a few hundred pounds playing bingo at a local casino. While the coroner suggests that the death may have been unintentional given Wilma’s exceptionally thin skull (in other words, it might’ve just been a mugging gone bad), the fact that her winnings weren’t taken poses a challenge to that explanation. Especially since the winnings were neatly arranged across her body in a way that suggests some sort of creepy, cryptic significance.

The investigation is immediately under media scrutiny because famed reporter Tony Baker happened to witness at least a portion of the crime, even though he couldn’t quite identify the killer. Baker is a TV celebrity whose investigative work a number of years before had unmasked a serial killer and freed an innocent man from prison. Now it seems history is repeating itself – especially after the police receive a letter that suggests Wilma’s killer has decided to become Baker’s “new challenger” and dares the reporter (or the police) to stop him before he kills again.

McGown’s easy writing style blends the essence of the police procedural with personal sidenotes and the whodunit elements of classic Agatha Christie mysteries. On one level, it seems a tame, English version of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels as it features a number of police officers interacting with possible suspects and with one another rather than focusing on one individual solving the entire case. Lloyd and Hill are just part of the machinery of English justice, even if they are bright, engaging and occasionally a touch eccentric. McGown does a good job of conveying the sense that they really are part of an investigative team rather than a couple of Lone Rangers off by themselves solving the case “their way.”

The novel also features a number of other storylines and characters, including Michael Waterman, the owner of the casino Wilma had spent the evening in, Waterman’s son Ben, and Ben’s friend Stephen. As their serial killer makes it hot for everyone, the question becomes not merely who the murderer is, but how many more people will have to die before he’s caught. And it’s up to Lloyd, Hill, and their team of investigators to make that happen sooner rather than later.

Unlucky for Some is a prime example of sophisticated British crime literature, focusing not merely on crime but society as well. McGown’s deft characterizations give you a sense of the characters as individuals, not merely ciphers on a page. And the plot twists will be sufficient to keep most mystery buffs interested. All in all, Unlucky for Some isn’t a reference to the book’s readers; they’ll enjoy it plenty.

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About Bill Wallo

  • Now you’ve gone and done it. I’m going to have to add more books to my TBR stack.