Atmospheric and thoughtful look at death amongst the old that falls a little short on tension
“But For The Grace” wasn’t what I expected as a follow-on from “An Accidental Death”.
It shares some of its predecessor’s strengths: police officers that I can believe in as real people and not just plot devices, the irritations of internal politics and the humour, bloodymindedness and practiced disingenuity used to get around them and an empathy for the people whose lives are touched by the police investigation.
I think the writing became richer, evoking an atmosphere of melancholic resignation to the investigation of a death in a nursing home. The imagery of winter was used well. Even the name of the institution, Rosemary House, a herb closely associated with remembrance and honouring the dead, played its part.
Where it departed from its predecessor was in the decision to make solving the crime a secondary consideration. At the start, the novel feels like a police procedural investigation of a possible murder. As the story develops, that impetus is lost as DC Smith is made into an unwilling bystander to a demonstration of how the old and sick who are still sharp of mind and stong in spirit, deal with the inevitability of imminent of death.
I rather liked Ralph Greenwood, the formidable old man at the centre of the story. DC Smith liked him as well. There were good points made on what it means to be old and what a mistake it is to see them as undifferentiated “old dears” rather than people who have lived long, full lives which are now coming to an end.
While I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book and the opportunity to meet the people in it, I wasn’t convinced that the police procedural conceit was sustained.
I’ll be reading the next book in the series but I hope that Peter Grainger manages to keep up the fine writing and build more tension into the plot next time.