The Orpheus Trail by Maureen Duffy

published 2009

I sat there for about half an hour, covertly inspecting the cyclists and a few walkers, mainly women with dogs and pushchairs on their way to the Parks. Then suddenly there he was turning the corner, a little hunched inside his overcoat but unmistakable from the website photograph, slightly shaggy moustache, plump face with two wings of bushy hair sprouting from a bald patch stretching back from his forehead. I got out of the car and walked towards him. The words came out as if they had been well rehearsed. ‘I’m a friend of Jack Linden’s. I think we should talk.’…

[The mysterious Professor turns up in the British Museum later:]
I chanced a quick look around the corner. No mistake. There was the shaggy moustache, the wings of bushy hair. Why was he in this exhibition and not among the mummies that were his field of expertise?

observations: There’s a prescient note in this book: the hero Alex, a great man for his cat, says:
Maybe one day some urban wildlife Attenborough will hang a mini video camera round a cat’s neck and film that mysterious life lived beyond our grasp.

--and just last week exactly such a programme was shown on British TV, a whole set of cats being tracked round a small village.

On the whole, though, the book is more concerned with history, and archaeology. The story reads like a very old-fashioned detective story, written by someone who has heard of such works but never actually read one. But then modern life intrudes – the website above, and odd mentions of Soham and the Iraq war, suddenly drag you back into the present. And then it becomes clear that Duffy - a very distinguished writer, with fiction, non-fiction and poetry on her list – is very very concerned about modern-day issues of child trafficking. The investigation is moderately interesting if oddly-written –
I set off up the A127, the old arterial road to London for pre-Second World War outings ‘beside the seaside’ to join the M25 snaking round north London before turning west on the M40, and eventually down another old London Road, over Magdalen Bridge into the city centre, past St John’s College and out on the Woodstock Road, where I pulled in to study my city map.

--Alex feels ‘childish excitement’ at this detailed navigation, but he must be the only one.

It feels mean to be carping, but the very odd ending does neither her nor her unimpeachable cause any favours at all.

Links on the blog: A remote one - St Cedd, who is rather obscure, features in this book: he is also the patron saint of the church in Cover Her Face, where the fete leads to murder.

The picture is of Leonard Hobhouse of LSE, the first Professor of Sociology at a British University.


  1. I have a copy of MD's Gor Saga, which I have started and abandoned more than once because I couldn't get on with it - the style of writing as much as anything. Perhaps I'll give it another go...

    1. I'm not sure. I was happily able to read my way through it, and it started off quite nicely, but I did think I couldn't see it getting published, even, if it hadn't had her name - not because it was so bad, just that it read quite amateurishly. So a story about primates (is that Gor?)- I wouldn't be rushing to read...


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