Monday, October 15, 2018

Wycliffe and the Scapegoat (Wycliffe Book #8)

Author:  W. J. Burley
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  978038515169; 9780752849713; 9780752849713
Gollacz Publishing (Orion)
173 Pages
Various Prices Amazon
Original Publish Date 1978


Every year, at Halloween, high on the Cornish cliffs, a life-sized effigy of a man is strapped to a blazing wheel and run into the sea - a re-enactment of a hideous old legend where the figure had been a living sacrifice.

And now Jonathan Riddle, well-known and respected local builder and undertaker, has disappeared - and it seems all too likely that his corpse has gone the way of the historic 'scapegoat'.

As Chief Superintendent Wycliffe begins to investigate, more and more unpleasant facts emerge until he is left with an incredible, and seemingly impossible, solution...


Jonathan Riddle is a builder and an undertaker.  While being an undertaker is only a small part of what he does for a living, this is what the townspeople focus on, primarily calling him "the undertaker" instead of his name.  He lives with his mother, sister, and nephew Matthew, who also works for him.

Halloween is coming and the town reenacts a blazing wheel with the effigy of a man - it will be sent into the sea and is supposed to bring good luck for the next years' crops.  This year DI Wycliffe and his wife witness the event with friends, and nothing more is thought of it and Wycliffe returns home.

But not for long - it seems Riddle has disappeared, and some people think instead of an effigy it was he who was strapped to the wheel and sent into the sea.  When Wycliffe arrives he discovers that Sarah, Riddle's sister, didn't report him missing until Sunday although he didn't return home Friday night.  Now Wycliffe finds this odd because it seems Riddle was a creature of habit and never stayed away overnight.  But when he starts looking into the disappearance he must decide who had the best motive to want him gone...

I decided to read this book because it takes place at Halloween, and I like to 'read the season' as it were.  However, it had nothing to do with Halloween at all save for the fact that the wheel is sent off at the beginning of the book.

First, I didn't understand why people didn't like him, merely because he was a loner growing up.  Then he's not reported missing until Sunday which seemed odd considering he never stayed away overnight.  You'd think they would have gone to the police some time on Saturday about it.  His family also didn't seem too concerned about his being missing, which was, again, odd.

But honestly, I found this book very dry and boring.  One gets no sense at all of DI Wycliffe's personality.  Read Colin Watson's Flaxborough Chronicles and you have a very different person in DI Purbright.  Wycliffe, on the other hand, we learn nothing at all about save for the fact that he is married.  He is supposed to be intelligent (well, he does solve the case) but we are given nothing to confirm that.  He doesn't appear to think much of anyone he comes in contact with, and there's no 'gleam' in his eye when he's interviewing people, you never get the idea he truly knows what he's looking for.  Not a character I can see should be a detective inspector at all.

As far as the murderer goes, it was pretty easy to discover right at the beginning.  While most of the characters were actually pretty lifeless - they seemed to have given up on life and just accepted that this is their lot; not a single one has any fire to them, any feeling left, any soul.  Which brings me to the fact of finding the killer.  Look at their lack of personality and you're given only one person who could possibly be guilty.

But the strangest thing was the ending of the book.  I felt as if the book just...stopped.  Almost as if there was another chapter somewhere that hadn’t been added where it should be.  The book felt unfinished, and while this is where the author chose to leave it that way, I wasn’t very happy with it and therefore won’t be seeking out any more in this series.

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