JOHN BUXTON HILTON – Hangman’s Tide. Inspector Simon Kenworthy #3. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1975. St. Martin’s, US, hardcover, 1975. Charter/Diamond, paperback, US, August 1990.

   It was quite a surprise to see this one out in paperback. Hilton is a fine writer, but it’s always seemed to me that his stories of Inspector Kenworthy of Scotland Yard would be a little too rustic to have much market appeal in this country. Here it is, though, and apparently it’s the first of several.

   This particular one takes place in a backwoods marshy corner of England, where a former school administrator has been murdered in gruesome fashion — she’s been hanged to death on a floating scaffold, the platform of which is designed to sink out from under the feet of the victim as the tide comes slowly in.

   As usually happens in Hilton’s books, the roots of the crime go far back into the past — indirectly, to a period 300 years earlier, since the murder copies the events of an execution that too place three centuries ago — and directly, a generation of two past, when life may have been simple but certainly wasn’tany easier, as an unhappy woman’s diary clearly shows.

   Kenworthy uses a questioning technique that’s often deliberately antagonistic, on the principle that more may be revealed when the answerer is angered than not. He is also deliberately eccentric, known for flouting the rules whenever he sees fit, and invariably equipped with a vivid flair for the dramatic.

   The first third of the book is the best. The middle portion sags badly when Kenworthy departs the scene for a short while, leaving the investigation in the stalwart hands of his assistant, Sgt. Wright, while the ending can easily leave the reader with the uneasy feeling of “Is that all there is?” Nonetheless the characters are fleshed out in fine fashion, and in this case, that’s all it takes to make the book worth reading.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23, July 1990 (very slightly revised).