John Bingham was in his early 70s, yet commendably trying for a fresh direction in his writing, when he published Deadly Picnic in 1980. Michael Jago's excellent biography of Bingham, The Man Who Was George Smiley, suggests that Bingham was trying to follow in the footsteps of Colin Dexter with this one, although his detective duo, King and Owen, were about as different from Morse and Lewis as could be imagined.
At the start of the book, King and Owen are getting on like a house on fire, and Owen seems set to replace King when he retires. But at a picnic with their wives, Owen is offended by King's wife Laura, and an estrangement develops. King learns that Owen isn't going to get his job, and steps down from the Met at once, improbably taking a job with a marriage bureau. We then learn, perhaps even more unexpectedly, that Owen has a drug habit.
King is concerned that a criminal called Buller is determined to exact revenge after being sent to prison. And it just so happens that Buller is threatening the woman who set up the marriage bureau. King soon concludes that he needs to kill Buller, who is admittedly a nasty piece of work. So he tries to plan the perfect murder.
Of course, things don't work out as expected. But long before the sadly foreseeable twist ending, the reader has ceased to care. Jago described this book as a "disaster", which killed Bingham's relationship with his then publishers, Macmillan. It's certainly an unsatisfactory piece of work, which seems to have been written in an increasingly perfunctory fashion. I'm afraid that the characters didn't ring true, and the plot didn't appeal to me. I like Bingham as a writer, and feel that he is seriously under-estimated nowadays, but alas, this book is the work of a man whose powers were in sad decline.