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DEATH UNDER A LITTLE SKY by Stig Abell: Book Review

Jake Jackson, a London police detective, is about to experience a life change.  Just at the time his marriage is dissolving, he receives news of the death of his Uncle Arthur and the bequest his uncle left him.  Now he has the opportunity to retire and start over.

Arthur was a wealthy, eccentric man, a bachelor with no family other than Jake, so Jake is not surprised to be the recipient of his uncle’s generosity, but he is stunned when he realizes the extent of it.  In addition to a mansion called Little Sky, named after the lake on Arthur’s property in a remote corner of the English countryside, there is a very generous bank account in his name as well.

At the end of his first week in his new home, Jake meets Livia, the local veterinarian, and she fills him in on what to expect in the town.  In Caelum Parvum (Latin for Little Sky) there is “no school, no supermarket, no village green, no offices,” or pretty much anything else.  A general store/pub appears to be all there is in terms of entertainment or community, but Jake is fine with that–more than fine, actually, as it seems as if this will be a welcome respite from his former life.

There is a tradition in Caelum Parvum that is really an excuse for a community holiday each year.  St. Aethelmere lived in the area centuries ago, and his bones are allegedly buried somewhere along the river.  The story is that those who find his bones, or actually a bag of random bones that are placed in the area for the hunt, are granted a year of good fortune, and Livia invites Jake to join herself and her young daughter in the search.  As luck would have it, they do indeed find a bag of bones, but it brings them bad luck rather than good.

For a small community, there are many secrets and unsavory aspects in Caelum Parvum.  There is the mysterious death several years earlier of a beautiful young foreigner named Sabine, the behavior of two brutish brothers and their mother at the farm where Sabine worked, the sleazy Rose (whether it’s his first name or last, no one seems to know), and the strange fascination the deceased woman held over two elderly men, Jake’s uncle Arthur and the somewhat odd Dr. Peters and his bizarre obsession with hedgerows.

Jake really wants nothing more than to keep life private in his new home, and perhaps to pursue a friendship/possible romance with Livia, but the question of Sabine’s untimely death keeps surfacing.  Was it suicide, an accident, or murder?  The coroner and the local police had decided it was an accident, but Jake senses strange undercurrents in his interactions with the townspeople.  Then a couple of incidents make him decide to look more closely as to how Sabine ended up at the bottom of a flight of stairs she had climbed many times.

Death Under A Little Sky is Stig Abell’s first novel, although he is a well-known journalist in England, and it is a masterful one.  His characters are well drawn, his plot moves compellingly along, and his descriptions of the countryside are lyrical.

You can read more about the author at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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