I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was clearly a first novel in a series, the pacing was off and what I loved about the first book I read in the series was missing. I enjoyed this book, but there was a huge difference in both plot development and writing style between The Secret of High Eldersham and Death in the Tunnel. Death in the Tunnel was more of a bare bones writing style, not overly flowery, but still descriptive enough to be an enjoyable read. The Secret of High Eldersham was descriptive to the point of being exhausting.
What should have been subplot pretty much took over the book. The first couple of chapters did a good job of focusing on the murder of the former police officer Whitehead, but around the 27% when Desmond Merrion starts researching the practice of witchcraft, the plot derailed. Merrion spends the rest of the novel lurking around High Eldersham, spying on midnight meetings held under a full moon, and living on a yacht. He gets caught up in investigating a smuggling case and right about then it started to feel like a Hardy Boys mystery. I like the Hardy Boys, at one point I owned over thirty books in the series before my dad left them behind when we moved, but I was expecting something else when I started this book. It felt out of place in the overall arc of the novel. Why was he spending so much time investigating a smuggling ring instead of trying to discover who killed Whitehead? He has a hunch that the smuggling has something to do with the death of Whitehead, but it’s a bad one. The murder is related to the smuggling/drug ring in only a roundabout way. Inspector Young fairs no better during this investigation, rushing off to investigate anything he deems as strange in this village even though he has no reason to think any of it has to do with the murder of Whitehead. Merrion and Inspector Young only discover the murderer at the end of the book out of sheer dumb luck and not any investigating prowess on their part. It took them an entire book to realize they should look into Whitehead’s past to see if anybody he may have arrested might hold a grudge?!? That’s Investigating 101.
I have no idea what was with the coven subplot -- it felt like it didn't truly belong to this book.
"But this scheme would necessitate his obtaining such an influence locally that no one would dare to run counter to his wishes. The scheme was of a secret nature, and the betrayal of it would be disastrous. He had decided that such an influence could only be obtained by arousing a superstitious fear among the villagers, and to this end he proposed to revive the practice of the witch-cult, of which the tradition still lingers in these parts...Doctor Padfield was admitted to the secret, and he was able to make up the modern equivalents..."
So his plan was:
1.Start smuggling drugs into the country.
2.Bring Doctor Padfield in on the plan so he could drug the villagers.
3.Convince the villagers to join a witch’s coven so they won’t rat on him.
It seems to me that he made this more complicated and involved more people in his plot then he needed to. Why would you include the entire village in your illegal activities? Was the saying “loose lips sink ships” just not around at that time? If you’re going to do something illegal, you do it in secret and you involve as few people as you can. There were only four people who really needed to know what was going on in the village and they had no reason to go to the police. And if you are going to blackmail everybody, then there is absolutely no need for subterfuge, just do your illegal activities out in the open.
I liked this book, I truly did, but it had some issues that kept me from fully immersing myself. It felt like there was too much going on at once and the author struggled to pull the various subplots together into one cohesive plot. I still recommend this series, just keep in mind that the first book is not a good example of the quality of the writing. 3 stars.