The policeman’s beat can be strewn with obstacles, especially in a murder inquiry, as detective inspector Paul Ambrose discovers in Close Disharmony. But Ambrose’s investigation of the Calzone Singers, who are residing in the Shalimar Hotel, is hindered more by smoke and mirrors rather than physical barriers. Jealousies, petty disputes, and identity crises pepper the pages, as in the previous two Ambrose mysteries by PJ Quinn.
Ambrose, acutely aware that he has nothing with which to charge a host of suspects, resolves reluctantly to hand over the case to Uttley CID. But with razor-sharp instincts and an intuitive understanding of the criminal mind, he is not one to give up easily and the story reaches a satisfying denouement, arguably the best of the series.
All this is a far cry from the exciting opening scene when Ambrose – away from his natural element of rooms in which to quiz suspects – has to think fast. It is an innovative way of introducing the large cast of the Calzone Singers who are performing a concert at Chalk Heath Theatre.
Author: PJ Quinn
Stairwell Books, £9.50
Ensconced in the Shalimar, the singers are caught up in jewellery thefts but events soon take a more sinister turn. ‘This is going to ruin us,’ laments the aptly named Audrey Tempest. And the pressure on Ambrose to produce results reaches boiling point. With WPC Pauline Meadows performing undercover as one of the singers, ‘people noticed everything you did’, reflects Ambrose on life in a small town.
This strain has much to do with identity and secrets. Is Anton Gdansk really Polish? Should Meadows reveal to the other singers her real job? Are Mr and Mrs Gibbs, who have lived in the hotel for eight years, the harmless old couple they appear? And who is the identity of the killer? Is it a random slaying perpetrated by someone from outside?
None of the answers are obvious. Yet in a novel shorn of the legal know-how evident in Foul Play and Poison Pen, the narrative has much more tension and characterisation. I especially liked the epistolary chapter later on. The best Ambrose mystery yet.
Nicholas Goodman is a Gazette sub-editor