Wednesday, March 22, 2023

30. The Schoolgirl Murder Case by Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson is an interesting and talented writer.  When I read a book like this one I am reminded at how skilled he was at producing a solid to excellent thriller in the conventional police genre.  I hesitated on this one because the last books of his that I read (or at least that I remember) were not so focused.  I was worried this one was going to be a bit of a rambling mess like The Philosopher's Stone.  I was glad to be wrong, as I tore through this one.  It is a very readable, straightforward and engaging procedural mystery that gets connected to black magic social circles but only the subtlest hints of any real supernatural.

The opening scene is the police at a murder scene.  A young woman has been raped and strangled and left in some trees between two houses in Hampstead.  The investigating officer on the scene Chief-Inspector Gregory Saltfleet (odd name) is the protagonist, an experienced, humane and competent detective.  He figures out a day late that what they assumed was a schoolgirl was actually a prostitute in her 20s who was dressed up as a schoolgirl.  They also check the empty house near the body the next day and discover another dead person, this time a middle-aged male, nude and half under a bed, no obvious signs of death but a look of terror on his face.  The house appears to be wiped clean of prints.  

The second victim is quickly identified, the wealthy and dissolute nephew of the owner of the house, whom we soon learn was quite a pervert and also recently interested in black magic.  Saltfleet competently and calmly starts poking around the world of the occult and local sex trafficking, centered around an occult bookstore.  The mystery itself is not super interesting but all the locations and the steady work of the police kept me engaged.  Things stay very grounded and we also get a lot of nice details of other side cases going on.  Felt like Wilson did some real research into Scotland Yard and wanted to share it with us. There is a hint of real magic, as Saltfleet meets a patron of the bookstore, a witch who does horoscopes and things get slightly freaky (and possibly sexual) back at her apartment when she has a powerful vision that leads him to a clue.  Later we learn that she had a more concrete connection to the murder, but Wilson doesn't dismiss his protagonist's spiritual connection with the witch.

I was also relieved that this book wasn't actually about murdered schoolgirls, but focused on this single case.  A solid read. I wonder if Wilson ever used Saltfleet in any other books?


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