Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Book of 1987: The Skeleton in the Grass by Robert Barnard


It is 1936 and Sarah Causeley has been hired as a governess for the Hallams, who have three grown children and one "afterthought," six-year-old Chloe. The family, with their open and affectionate behavior, is a new experience for Sarah, whose parents showed little emotion and were not supportive in her desire to explore the world beyond their village.

We see the events of 1936 through Sarah's eyes, but also via the educated and well-read Hallams, and the villagers. The King is spending time with a divorced woman. Civil war is breaking out in Spain. One of the Hallam sons goes to Spain to take part in the fighting. And during all of this, because the Hallams are pacifists, malicious pranks are carried out on the grounds of Hallam House. The last prank results in a death and the Hallams are the logical suspects. From that time on, life at Hallam House is less idyllic.

This is my submission for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences, and the year for this month is 1987. However, since this novel is historical fiction, set mainly in 1936 and occasionally a decade or two later, I learned more about the 1930s than 1987.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a quiet story and is really more about the times and the people than a mystery, but that type of novel appeals to me. I did like how the culprit was revealed in the end. Publisher's Weekly said: "Remarkably inventive British author Barnard recreates England in the mid-1930s in this spellbinding mystery."

Some have compared this book to another of Barnard's novels, Out of the Blackout, a story about a man who grew up in London but was evacuated to the country during the 1940s. His parents never came to pick him up after the Blitz ended, and, as an adult, he has strange memories of his childhood in London. I have read that book and liked it but honestly cannot remember how it compares to this one.

I have been a fan of Robert Barnard for years. I like his standalone books and his series books, and fortunately I still have many unread. At the Gregory & Co. website, there is a remembrance written by Martin Edwards.

Two other very good reviews are at Letters from a Hill Farm and Mystery*File.

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Publisher:   Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987
Length:      199 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      UK, 1936
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

28 comments:

  1. Probably a bit too quiet for me I think. I'm still wondering if I have anything by him, as I kind of feel I ought to try one (but no more) of his books. Out of the Blackout sounds more interesting, but I'm still not going to commit!

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    1. I wish I could think of the perfect Barnard book for you, Col, but not off the top of my head. The two series he wrote were police procedurals. I will have to think more on that.

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    2. If you could please, I'd appreciate it. There's a list of heavyweight authors that I intend to try at least once, time allowing - Stout, Sayers, Christie, Upfield, Lovesey plus a few more. Barnard probably fits the bill.

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    3. Unfortunately, Col, the first one that comes to mind is in the middle of a series. But I will keep thinking. After all, you have plenty of books to read while I mull it over.

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    4. Tracy - not as problem - if I undertake it as a one-off - I'm happy to dive in anywhere. Authors I fully commit to - I'm very OCD about reading from start to finish!

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    1. Me too, Patti. I have a lot of his books and almost twenty that I haven't read yet. Something to look forward to.

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  3. I'll add it to my list. Good review.
    Ann

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    1. Thanks very much, Ann. This is definitely a book worth reading.

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  4. Oh, I like Barnard's writing a lot, Tracy, and I'm glad you enjoyed this one. Some of those quieter mysteries can be excellent. Oh, and I'd bet the cover of this one appealed to you...

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    1. You are right, Margot, the cover is great. I ended up getting a copy of the Felony & Mayhem reprint also, but that skull and the country home in front of it, just stunning.

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  5. I'm a big fan of his writing too and enjoyed this book a lot.

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    1. Mac n' Janet, I am glad to hear that. I know many mystery readers still appreciate and enjoy his books.

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  6. Never heard of him till now. Thanks Tracy. Off to see if I can find this book.

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    1. Keishon, Barnard is definitely an author to check out. And I liked this one a lot.

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  7. Nicely reviewed, Tracy. Glad you enjoyed it. And what a splendid cover!

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    1. It is a lovely cover, Prashant, and a lovely book. I am surprised I put off reading it for so long, I am glad the 1987 meme motivated me.

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  8. His books seem to be hit or miss for me but this is one I've really wanted to read and haven't come across yet. Will look harder!

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    1. I can understand that, Peggy. Some of his later series books haven't seemed as good as the earlier ones, to me.

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  9. Top cover is great. How about DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE for Col?

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    1. Richard - thanks for the suggestion. I'll investigate!

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    2. Richard, Death in a Cold Climate is one I haven't read yet (or it was one the ones I read so long ago I can't remember them). It does sound like one that Col might like and one I should read too. One I liked was Death of a Perfect Mother (also known as Mother's Boys).

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  10. Thanks for so wonderfully highlighting a book that I have somehow overlooked in my many decades of reading crime fiction. Now, without delay, I will be "shopping" at libraries and online vendors for a copy. Again, thanks!

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    1. Hope you can find a copy, R. T. Would love to know what you think of it.

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  11. Like Peggy Ann, I find him a bit hit or miss - the ones I like I think are wonderful, but some of the others have been laboured. This one sounds good though. And his book on Agatha Christie is the best ever....

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    1. Moira, I agree with you on the book on Agatha Christie's writing, A Talent to Deceive. And such a wonderful title too. I have enjoyed the parts of it I have read so far but have much left to read because he does admit to including spoilers.

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  12. Really like this one - in fact, I just re-read it too while in Italy - snap!

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    1. He is a wonderful author, Sergio, and I am behind in catching up with reading his books. And some I would like to reread.

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