An Air That Kills

by Andrew Taylor

Sunday, April 6, 2003

Featured image for An Air That Kills

This wasn’t as deep the two volumes of the Roth Trilogy that I’ve read so far but I did think it was a really interesting introduction to what I hope I’ll find to be an engaging series. As well as enjoying previous books by the author I was attracted to this series by the titles: they are all quotes from AE Housman’s poems A Shropshire Lad and are set in the imaginary town of Lydmouth on the border of Shropshire and Wales in the 1950s. My mum’s family are from Shropshire so that appeals to me, and the fact that Andrew Taylor isn’t trying to paint a halcyon picture of the 1950s or write ‘cozy’ murder mysteries attracts me to the historical period more than would otherwise be the case.

The two central characters of this series (at least I presume they will be that) are both newcomers to Lydmouth in this opening book. It’s an old trick but it works well. Jill Francis, a journalist from London, has come to stay with old friends, the Wemyss-Browns who own and edit the Gazette, one of the local newspapers. Detective Inspector Richard Thornhill has recently moved from Cambridgeshire with his wife Edith, who is local to Lydmouth, and their two children. It’s a prickly time for both of them as they settle in and get to know the lie of the land.

The story revolves around a box of babies bones found when demolishing the cesspit behind the Rose in Hand public house and a gangster known as Genghis Carn who has turned up in Lydmouth. Taking place in the week of November just before Remembrance Sunday the setting and characters really came to life for me and the small details of the story all fitted in with my ideas of what the years after the second world war would have been like in such a place (I wasn’t born until the seventies).

I think for the most part Taylor’s done a commendable job of not giving his characters modern opinions or impossible foresight into the half century that will follow them. The mystery storyline spends a long time unfolding so that when it is resolved there are no fireworks and it’s a bit like ‘well of course that was the case’ but I found it a rewarding read and look forward to reading more about the same place and people.