‘A Late Phoenix’ – Inspector Sloane #4 by Catherine Aird

Berebury, England, did not have an easy go of it during the Second World War. This quaint Victorian town was destroyed when the Nazis dropped bomb after bomb on its perfect gardens and neat hedges. After three decades of disarray, the town council has finally begun reconstructing what’s left. All throughout Berebury, the sounds of hammers and saws drone on. But on this particular day, the noise stops.
In the crater of a bomb site, a skeleton has been found. While its presence there isn’t unusual—hundreds died in bombing raids throughout England—the manner in which the pregnant girl met her end is sinister enough that Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan and his assistant, Detective Constable Crosby, are called to the scene. The cause of death, it seems, was not the blast, but a bullet to the spine.
Inspector Sloan is the best there is when it comes to cracking the most complex cases. But can he piece together a murder that’s been buried for more than a quarter century?

This is my fourth Catherine Aird mystery featuring DI Sloan and set in the fictional English county town of Berebury and I’m hooked.


Well, first and foremost is the dry humour that gives the storytelling its distinctive voice. This isn’t slapstick, zany cue-the-canned-laughter kind of humour. It is subtle and sardonic and it always makes me smile.

All of the above is amplified by Robin Bailey’s perfectly-pitched narration. He delivers what amounts to a one-man show that picks up every nuance in the text while still giving a mostly low-key delivery.

Then there’s the period flavour of the book. Published in 1971, the plot of this book goes back to when the town of Berebury was being bombed thirty years earlier in World War II. I found it fascinating to watch detectives for whom the war was a best a childhood memory interview people who lived through the bombing and struggling to come to terms with how the world worked thirty years earlier. I found myself comparing it to listening to people under thirty talking about the 1990s as if they were ancient history and exceedingly strange whereas, for me, they feel like a recent memory. The plot brought back memories of when the town I lived in still had ‘bombies’ – old bomb sites, which hadn’t yet been built on and where you could often see the ghost of a destroyed building manifesting as fireplaces and floor joists on the side of the only slightly damaged buildings that they used to be connected to.

Then there is the plot itself – a nice little mystery that took a bit of working through and which was populated with ordinary but interesting people.

Finally, I liked that book was short enough (just under five hours) for me to listen to on a single car journey.

Although there is an ensemble cast of detectives, each of these books can be read as a standalone. So far, I’ve read ‘The Religious Body’,Henrietta Who?‘ and ‘The Complete Steel’ and they were all entertaining self-contained tales.

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