‘Parting Breath’ – Inspector Sloan #7 by Catherine Aird – not her best but it was a smile

This is my fifth Catherine Aird book and the least impressive so far but it still had its moments.

Part of the appeal for me is that this book, published in 1977, is set in a university where the students stage a sit-in in the University’s admin building. I was at University in 1977 and we had a sit-in in our university’s admin building so this brought back a lot of memories.

I was surprised to find, that even though I lived through this period, ‘Parting Breath’ read like a period piece. I think this is partly because, by 1977 the long-haired, radical, you-can’t-the-children-of-the-revolution days had already been pushed aside by pogoing punks for whom anarchy was about the creative use of safety pins and the see-how-shocking-I-can-be use of expletives, and partly because it is written from the point of view of a generation for whom the war was a childhood memory.

I liked the beginning of the book, which poked a little fun at academic life in a redbrick university where the gap between the student body and the faculty was becoming a chasm but before the universities had prioritised return on capital on real estate investments over academic respectability and turned the faculty into disposable accessories.

As usual, I enjoyed Inspector Sloane’s dry humour and the way he handles his less-than-competent DC and his on-another-planet boss.

But that wasn’t enough to make the book work as well as its predecessors. The main problem here was the plot. Some elements of it were too transparent – I knew very early on how the killer was dressed on what weapon they’d used – and some parts were just too far-fetched to be satisfying. Perhaps because the plot was so weak, its exposition seemed clumsy and mechanical and soon became divorced from the academic setting that had initially made it interesting.

Oh well, in a series of twenty-five books you’re bound to get a few that are like this – not so bad that I set it aside but not so good that I’ll remember it in a couple of months’ time.

This time, even Robin Bailey’s excellent narration couldn’t make the book fly but it still made it more interesting.

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