ANN CLEEVES – Sea Fever. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original, 1st printing, October 1991. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1993.

ANN CLEAVES Palmer-Jones

   This is the fifth mystery novel in which inveterate birdwatcher George Palmer-Jones has become involved with a case of murder. It shouldn’t be too surprising: even though he’s now actually a retired civil servant, he and his wife Molly have become partners in an “enquiry agency” as a means to keeping themselves busy in their declining years.

   George hates the term “private detective,” but there is no escaping it: whether “enquiry agent” or PI, that’s the kind of work they do. (*) George has birds on his mind most of the time, though, and if it weren’t for Molly to push him, I think his investigative business would be nothing at all, in no time flat.

   In Sea Fever they’re hired to trace a wayward son who refuses to come home, or to acknowledge the existence of his worried parents in any way. That he’s also an ardent birdwatcher makes the Palmer-Joneses the ideal couple to track him down. They catch up to him momentarily on a sea cruise/birdwatching expedition, but they lose him again almost as quickly at the hands of a killer.

   Murder at sea means a limited number of suspects, and this is classical detection at very nearly its highest level and its most overwrought, boosted by little annoying hints of what is yet to come and a (female) police inspector who finds her own life close to exploding out of control.

   Don’t get me wrong, though. While this may not be the equivalent of John Dickson Carr in plot complexity, it is a pleasant voyage through waters charted several times or more. Every time I take the trip, I enjoy it just about as much as the time before, and that’s the kind of book this is.

(*)   I’ve just checked John Conquest’s Trouble Is Their Business (Garland, 1990), a superb compendium of just about every other fictional PI you could name, and as it happens, he misses these two. They’re borderline, I’d say, but by Conquest’s own definition, they’re PI’s, and they should be in there.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 36,
     (slightly revised).

[UPDATE]. 09-05-12. And for what it’s worth, the Palmer-Joneses are not included on Kevin Burton Smith’s Thrilling Detective website either. Kevin doesn’t miss many, but this is one pair of PI’s I think he he has. A lengthy profile of the author by Martin Edwards can be found here, along with a long list of all her mysteries. (She’s done more than just this one series.)

       The George & Molly Palmer-Jones series —

A Bird in the Hand. 1986.

ANN CLEAVES Palmer-Jones

Come Death and High Water. 1987.
Murder in Paradise. 1988.
A Prey to Murder. 1989.

ANN CLEAVES Palmer-Jones

Sea Fever. 1991.
Another Man’s Poison, 1992.
The Mill on the Shore. 1994.

ANN CLEAVES Palmer-Jones

High Island Blues. 1996.