To visit Mr. and Mrs. Cardy, at first he dressed as he did for his appointments with his therapist. But when he looked in the mirror, it was all wrong. He was clean and tidy enough—though he’d always been one of those men who only have to put on a new suit for it to immediately start looking shabby— but he didn’t look … he didn’t look … Responsible. That was what he didn’t look. He didn’t look like someone grieving parents would talk to because it might help them discover what had happened to their son. If they saw him coming up their drive they’d think he was delivering the local freesheet.
He went back to his wardrobe, pushed aside the three or four things he wore all the time— cords and sweatshirts, and rugby shirts for teams he couldn’t have named let alone played for— and knocked the cobwebs off some of the things behind them. A good white shirt that he hadn’t worn since the last time his wife ironed it. A suit that hung off his bones now, even after he’d punched fresh holes in the belt….
observations: This is Gabriel Ash, a most unusual character and an excellent creation. The book is set in a Midlands town in the UK, and Ash is known as ‘Rambles With Dogs’ locally – as one policeman says
‘You know— like [the film] Dances with Wolves? I think he’s a bit …’ He made a spiral movement with one finger about his ear. ‘He wanders around the place talking to that dog.’Ash is attacked in the street, is recovering at the police station, and encounters a young black man who knows that something terrible is going to happen to him. The young man gives him a strange message, then dies sadly but apparently explicably. Ash is unconvinced by what happened, and tells a young policewoman, Hazel, that something is up. The two of them team up, along with the dog, to solve the crime. (The dog – a major player in this – manages to be surprisingly un-annoying. I am so not the audience for a book about a man who talks to a dog, but this one got away with it.)
Bannister has written dozens of books, in several series, going back over 30 years: I hadn’t previously read any, nor had I heard of her. But I was impressed, and she certainly has considerable powers of invention.
I liked the gentle humour – two police constables are on late-night patrol:
[PC] Budgen suggested checking the all-night café for criminal masterminds. When none was immediately apparent, they took a corner table and— as cover— ordered a pot of coffee and some sticky buns. They were still waiting for the criminal masterminds to show up when the call came in.The set-up was excellent and intriguing, and although some aspects of the solution hardly surprised, it was still well worth reading. It did have a faint air of having been written a long time ago and brought out and dusted off: computers and mobiles turn up now and again, but in a random manner. And there were oddments that were all wrong: flower traders at Covent Garden? Not in many a long year. The reporter cannot simultaneously have watched the BBC’s [real-life] Welsh newsreader Huw Edwards overtake him career-wise, yet be too young to remember the 1980s riots, and be just over 40….
But still, these are small matters, and Bannister has a lovely way with language: no-one will listen to Ash – as outlined above – but Hazel thinks to herself ‘Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. Maybe there was something in what he was trying to say.’ And I liked the local expression for someone with roots elsewhere: ‘A granny missing from the graveyard.’
One aspect of Ash’s story is left unresolved, and I believe the next book in the series has now been published - I certainly want to know more about Ash, so will read the next one.
The picture, from Wikimedia Commons, was taken in Cork in the Republic of Ireland by psyberartist.
I can’t really see any connection with Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, but one of the main characters in that was called Gabriel Oak.