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murder will out

11 march 2019

Jeffrey Ashford (a pen name used by Roderic Jefferies) shares a flaw with American noir-writer Harlan Coben: meaningless-title syndrome. Murder Will Out is a pretty good mystery novel, for instance, but how am I going to remember what it was about when I see its title again five years from now?

I remember it now, so here goes: Murder Will Out is another of Ashford's standalone police procedurals. Here we have a single point of view: a detective constable named Keen, who "catches" a banal hit-and-run fatality. The victim was an aging, abominable man whose hobby was sex tourism, and who left well over £100,000 in cash hidden away in his home.

You don't need too fanciful an imagination to suspect that the victim is a blackmailer who's been rubbed out by a hitman. But which thread to pull? Some apparently meaningless objects stowed with the cash – documentation of a collision at sea, a wedding announcement, a ring – give Keen the impetus to follow a trail of clues that lead to a shipping magnate who also happens to be a major benefactor of the police.

I wouldn't give Murder Will Out an A+ for plot or plausibility, but the scenario gives Ashford an opportunity to follow Keen's emotions along with his detective work. Keen is the sort of bloke who would rather head to the pub after detecting than home to read his toddler daughter, so his wife packs up, takes the kid, and leaves him. Keen is torn between longing for a reconciliation and pursuing the recently-widowed niece of his blackmailer murder victim. She too has a young daughter, and Keen tries to establish a rapport by reading to her – we can imagine a potential second marriage that is a virtual re-run of his first, and we wonder, as Keen himself does at times, what exactly he wants out of life. These elements of the book, more so than the rather soluble mystery story, make Murder Will Out a cut above the usual English cozy.

Ashford, Jeffrey. Murder Will Out. Sutton: Severn House, 2000.