«Lucinda Riley fan will enjoy this.»
“The Murders at Fleat House” has a special prehistory. It is said to have been written as early as 2006, but will not be published until now, a year after Lucinda Riley died of cancer. She was a much-loved author here in Norway, with her entertainment novels that contained everything the heart desires of dilapidated mansions, unhappy aristocrats, family secrets and Cinderella-like love stories. After “The Secret of the Orchid” (2011), she has published sixteen titles in Norwegian, and with her 1.6 million books sold, she is according to the publisher the translated author who has sold the most in Norway in the last decade. Much due to the spectacular series “The Seven Sisters”, where one of the books was added to Norway.
When Riley died, she left behind several scripts, including this crime. Both theme and style are recognizable Rileysk. For “The Murders at Fleat House” also contains gloomy family secrets and an unhappy aristocratic family.
Charlie was the only male heir to the huge estate Conaught Hall, where the melancholy Lord Conaught lives alone. His late brother will eventually play a role in the plot. The 400-year-old boarding school also has its secrets. Legend has it that it is haunted by a young boy, who was so unhappy that he hung himself from an iron hook in the ceiling in the basement. The boarding school boys suspect that it is his ghost that is behind the murder. Another schoolboy, the young victim of bullying Rory, is terrified for unknown reasons and disappears. Rory was one of Charlie’s victims of bullying.
This sounds more mysterious than it really is, because the plot is by no means spectacular. Much of the crime is about the increasingly numerous novel characters and their deplorable private lives. All marriages fail. There is jealousy, snobbery and class antagonisms. Investigator Jazz is also struggling with his. She left Scotland Yard after her husband – who was also her colleague – was unfaithful. Now she is more or reluctantly forced back into work.
The book’s most charming character is the school’s Latin teacher, the gentle Hugh. He takes his own life, for reasons we only get to know towards the end. There are several dramatic murders. The clarification is surprising enough, but is talked about a bit.
Top of wreath cake
Riley is a rather elaborate writer, and “The Murders at Fleat House” is a talkative crime story. Linguistically, it is completely on a regular basis. As far as I know, Benedicta Windt-Wal has translated most of Riley’s books. She has done a decent job, but in some places it becomes more than banal. Among other things, she seems to have fallen in love with the expression “the top of the wreath cake”, with sentences such as: “He was convinced that Charlie was the top of every wreath cake”. The gods know what the English term is, but the arch-Norwegian wreath cake seems a bit out of place.
Otherwise, this is a perfectly decent crime, and it’s almost a little strange that the book has not been published before. In the preface, Riley’s eldest son Harry Whittaker writes that he considered editing the script, as he has done with the eighth and final book of The Seven Sisters, “Atlas. The story of Pa Salt », which has not yet been published. Whittaker writes that he chose to publish this script unprocessed. It works fine. Admittedly, there will be many involved, some loose threads and some coincidences that even a crime can not stand. But the investigator Jazz works well, and could very well have managed to carry a crime series if Riley had chosen to become a crime writer.
We should still be happy that Riley chose the so-called Feelgood genre. “The Murders at Fleat House” lacks the melodrama and boundless entertainment elements that have made Lucinda Riley’s books so immensely popular.