Friday 12 May 2023

Forgotten Book - Deadly Pattern

I enjoyed Douglas Clark's The Libertines sufficiently to seek out another in his long series of police procedurals featuring Masters and Green, which encompassed no fewer than 27 books appearing between 1969 and 1990. The premise of Deadly Pattern, which dates from 1970, intrigued me, as did the setting - a rather bleak bit of the seaside on the Lincolnshire coast. It's a short book, with interesting elements but regrettable flaws.

Five women in their forties have gone missing from the area and recently the bodies of four of them have been found, buried in rather shallow graves in the sand dunes. The local police are baffled, so Masters and Green are called in to solve the mystery. And finding this particular serial killer involves not only finding the fifth body but also figuring out a motive - what is the pattern that connects the victims?

I imagine that, when this book came out more than half a century ago, serial killer novels were quite a novelty. When we read the story today, having probably read lots of books of this kind, we hope for some degree of originality in treatment. The setting appealed to me - I'm not sure where it's modelled on, but Cleethorpes may be a possibility - as did some elements of the plot. However, in some respects I found the story lacking.

Why? Clark's style is pleasingly readable, but it has irritating features - for instance, anybody who can't tolerate casual sexism should probably give it a miss, because by any standards the relentless chauvinism does become wearisome. Green, the sidekick, is a bolshie radical of sorts, and I'm not clear from the books I've read what Clark was trying to do with the character, I can see there's a contrast between him and Masters, but it's too crudely done for my taste. Above all, the book disappointed me because - even though the connecting link in the pattern seems relatively feeble to a modern reader - there are good ingredients in the storyline, but I think Clark could have made much more of them. This was either a short story idea or one that could have been developed with more attention to characterisation and mystification - as it is, the serial killer is screamingly obvious. I did entertain some hope that I might have been cunningly misled about his identity - but no such luck. However, as Jamie Sturgeon helpfully pointed out when commenting about The Libertines, Clark got into his stride with his later books.

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