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Burley, W J - 'A Taste of Power' (Unabridged Audiobook) read by Gordon Griffin
Audio Cassette (2002) Publisher: Soundings ISBN: 184283357X

Before beginning his long running Superintendent Charles Wycliffe series, the author wrote the first of two novels featuring bachelor Dr Henry Pym, an academic and sometime detective.

The story is set in a mixed school on the South West coast which has been the target of a poison pen letter writer. Pupils and teachers alike have been receiving typewritten letters in green ink and the suspicions are focused on a small number of the teachers. One teacher in particular is thought to be guilty: Miss Enid Barton, a middle-aged English teacher from Yorkshire who has been with the school for 30 years. The atmosphere in the school is intolerable and so headmaster Tristam-Jones decides he needs help. His superiors want him to call in the police but Tristam-Jones insists on trying to get Henry Pym to investigate first. Pym takes some persuading but he agrees and with his secretary Susan they begin to question the staff. A few days later though, the violence has escalated leaving one teacher injured and another dead, a possible suicide. Pym is joined by an old friend, Chief Inspector Judd, and together they try to discover the poison pen.

A TASTE OF POWER was first published in 1966 and contains some interesting attitudes. For instance, Pym forbids his secretary from wearing trousers. Women teachers are a necessary evil and unmarried older women are prone to strange behaviour. How much of this is based on the thoughts of the time and how much was just for a few comical lines, I'm not sure.

Nonetheless, old fashioned behaviour aside this was a very enjoyable listen. Firstly, the narrator was superb, managing to convey a large number of characters, both male and female, with distinct voices. Secondly the plot is a classic whodunit with a limited number of suspects and clues such as a typewriter with distinctive keys and pupating larvae which have their role to play. I didn't guess the criminal's identity and the only let down was their descent into insanity when they were found out. I'd have preferred to know more about their motivation.

Henry Pym's other appearance is in DEATH IN WILLOW PATTERN.

Karen Meek, England
April 2005

Karen blogs at
Euro Crime.

last updated 23/03/2008 20:38