Oh Welsh, what a difficult language you are! The Constable Evans series has made me a very confused American.
This review is going to be partially a review of this book, and partially of the whole series so far. I haven’t read book 4 yet due to it being unavailable at the library, so my generalizations of the series only apply to books 1-3 and 5.
The parts in italics that are woven through the novel, which turn out to be Trefor Thomas’s recital of his experience during WWII, were a bit disconcerting at first. I thought each section was going to be a different person’s story, since Grantley announces early on his intentions of interviewing a lot of people for his documentary, but like just about everything else he starts, he doesn’t follow through. Once Thomas is brought into the main part of the novel, in the present day, his story starts to make a whole lot more sense.
The mystery is pretty solid, in my opinion, and I didn’t have any unanswered questions or notice any loose ends, except maybe that the brother of the German pilot is never brought back as a serious suspect; he is mentioned, but never appears after his one early scene.
I found the historical background intriguing – trying to raise a WWII bomber that’s been sunk in a lake up in the Welsh mountains for over 50 years (and yes, the idea of the decomposed bodies of the pilots still being in the plane is gross), and the other story of all the paintings being brought up from London and stored in the mine throughout most of the war. I was pretty satisfied with the ending, except for the bit of dramatic irony where we the readers know that the real Rembrandt is still hanging in the Thomases’ house, and Trefor has died without telling anyone, and now anything might happen to it, since his son Tudur will probably have to go to jail for at least a few years for covering up his father’s crime and helping hide the body. I am upset about that, even if it is just a fictional painting.
Throughout this series, I’ve had a hard time telling whether the inhabitants of Llanfair, and some of the other North Wales towns, are speaking English or Welsh, since of course everything is written in English, except for the odd word sprinkled here and there. Sometimes I’m led to believe that the villagers speak Welsh most of the time, but it was mentioned (in book 1, I think) that they speak English and switch to Welsh whenever “foreigners” come into the pub or the other shops. Sergeant Watkins finds a couple opportunities in each book to mention how he needs Evans for an interpreter, as his Welsh isn’t that good, and there is no indication that he is English. I don’t know how he gets by on an everyday basis without a translator, then, and at some point (in book 3 maybe) it is mentioned that people in North Wales speak English just as well as they do Welsh. Finally book 5 gives a clue that most people in North Wales speak Welsh as well as English, but South Walesians mostly speak just English. I’ve decided that I don’t really care what language they’re speaking, and to get through the rest of the series without an anxiety attack, I’ll just believe whatever I’m told. Speaking of language, what’s up with the word “boyo?” It was used A LOT in book 5 (17 times that I counted), and not at all in the first three books. Did this work suddenly become trendy in the UK around the year 2000? I don’t know why, but the frequent use of this word annoyed me. It wasn’t like just one character was using it as a sort of catchphrase – Evans, Constable Morgan and Sergeant Watkins all used it that I noticed.
I was glad to see that Evans didn’t find himself staring down the barrel of a load gun, like in the first three books. For crying out loud, you’d think he had no police training at all. It’s ridiculous that the village constables aren’t allowed to carry guns, but this should make Evans even more cautious, instead of running off to confront suspected murderers all the time. He clearly doesn’t learn from his mistakes. I know this creates suspense, but it also makes him look like an idiot. His behavior is that of the female characters, usually written by female authors, who are housewives or some non-law enforcement career, who just happen to fall over dead bodies every few months, and then find themselves in the hands of the killer, but always manage to get away with minor injuries. Yes, they should all know better, but someone with police training should especially know better! I’m aware that I’m being sexist and offending myself in saying this, but Evans’ acting like a silly little girl just bothers me.
Finally, there’s Betsy. Boy, is she daft. We know Evans is incapable of being rude in response to her sexual advances, but you’d think she’d get the idea by now. Instead, she comes off as being kind of slutty, but in this book she crosses over into a total clown. She is not even believable as a three-dimensional character anymore. No matter how many times Evans says “documentary” to her, she is still convinced that this ragtag movie crew will discover her talent (read: body) and she will be on the next plane to Hollywood. First she tries to convince them she’s sunbathing in a bikini in November, then she dresses up as “Granny Jones” to give them her made-up account of life during WWII (based on her description here, she might actually be able to make it in Hollywood as a make-up artist), and finally she nearly gives herself pneumonia by somehow hiding submerged in the lake and popping up when the plane finally comes to the surface as the Lady of the Lake with the sword Excalibur. She must know how to hold her breath for hours.
Clearly I think there are some major flaws with this series, but I have found it amusing so far, as well as lighthearted despite all the dead bodies. I still like the series well enough to finish it – I’m no quitter!