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June 13, 2013
  • "Murder in Thrall," by Anne Cleeland.
"Murder in Thrall," by Anne Cleeland. (Daily Pilot )

Murder in Thrall

By Anne Cleeland

Kensington Books; 282 pages

What a bleak existence it must be to work as a detective — day after day amid forensics, fingerprints and hysterical witness statements, under deadlines that change at the drop of a hat. It's a job that must lure do-gooders but also a few misfits and loners. When we think of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, do his drink and cigarette linger more in our memory than the actual cases he solved?

"Murder in Thrall," the first installment in a mystery series by Anne Cleeland, stars a pair of Scotland Yard detectives who seem to occupy their own odd corners of the world. Their lives center on solving crime, but neither of them seems burning with idealism. Even marriage takes on pragmatic terms; when one proposes to the other, he explains stoically, "We spend a great deal of time together already; our lives would not change very much."


Those words, delivered early in the book by Chief Inspector Lord Acton to his younger cohort, Constable Kathleen Doyle, set the stage for the rest of "Murder in Thrall," which is both an intricate whodunit and also a study of two people who seem to have fallen into detective work to satisfy some inexplicable gnawing. The novel doesn't maintain its tone to the end — the final 40 pages descend into popcorn-movie territory — but it gives us a pair of memorable protagonists, even if they sometimes rise above the material.

In the first chapter of "Murder in Thrall," Acton and Doyle stake themselves outside a pub in hopes of catching a man who may have information about a recently murdered horse trainer. Their potential witness is nowhere to be found, but the detectives interview a woman who dated him — and who turns up dead soon after.

As more slayings follow throughout the area, it grows apparent that they are connected. Meanwhile, the story's other thread — the budding romance — plays out in unexpected ways. Acton, a high-ranking officer with distinguished lineage, and Doyle, a lower-class Irishwoman who frets over her vocabulary, are hardly peers, but they bond on an intellectual level as well as a physical one.

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