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Dying Flames: A Novel of Suspense by Robert…
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Dying Flames: A Novel of Suspense (2005)

by Robert Barnard

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I look forward to a new Robert Barnard mystery every year. They are exquisite British miniatures, perfect examples of finely crafted English mysteries. The mysteries themselves are not unusually complex, particularly timely, or in any way sensational. They are simply solid, strongly written, excellent examples of the craft. Barnard has won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, Nero Wolfe, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity awards, and has been nominated for an Edgar eight times. This is a writer who can be counted on to produce a reliable few hours of entertainment to the dedicated mystery reader every year without fail.

Dying Flames is no exception to the Barnard rule. His protagonist, Graham Broadbent, is a well-known author who decides to attend a reunion of the boys' school he attended. While he is in town a knock comes at his hotel room door, and an attractive nineteen-year-old woman, Christa, enters and declares that he is her father. This is news to him, though he does recall -- quite vividly, in fact -- having had a hurried affair with Christa's mother, Peggy, a girl known for her exquisite acting in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan. (Even an all-boys school had to bring in the occasional girl for some degree of verisimilitude.) Graham is able to eliminate himself from the fatherhood sweepstakes with some swift arithmetical calculations, but his curiosity is piqued.

As luck would have it, Graham's former sweetheart, who did in fact become pregnant at just about the time of their assignation, has discovered her long-lost son, whom she gave up for adoption. Peggy has concluded, with no evidence but timing and an apparent hope that some of Graham's rather minimal celebrity will rub off, that Graham must be the father. She arranges a celebratory dinner at which she makes the grand announcement of Graham's paternity to her adult son -- who, to everyone's surprise, rejects it vehemently and with a great deal of genuine anger. The children Peggy has brought up inside a couple of failed marriages are also at least a bit non-plussed; though they are pretty much used to her fabulations after many years of dramatics, the son she has raised from birth is at least a bit put-out over the fuss made over this "long-lost" fellow.

No one is particularly surprised when Peggy goes missing immediately after this disastrous dinner, especially when she leaves behind a note indicating that she's gone off with some bloke. Apparently this isn't an unusual event. As the days go by and no one hears from her, however, it appears that something more sinister has occurred. Graham basically takes over as surrogate father to Peggy's younger children, surprising himself with the depth of his affection for them. But things cannot glide along forever this way, and Peggy's disappearance must be solved. Many things could have gone wrong -- as many as the people who wished Peggy ill. In the true manner of an English mystery, things gently and reasonably unravel themselves, with the clues piling up until a conclusion is inescapable.

This is at least Barnard's 39th book, and I've read them all. With every new one, I fear that it's the last, and he will decide to rest on his laurels. Here's hoping that there will be many more to follow in the wake of Dying Flames; if all future books give as much pleasure as this one, we all have many fine hours of reading ahead of us. ( )
  TerryWeyna | Apr 26, 2009 |
A skillfully written suspense novel, with some of the best characterizations Barnard has ever developed. Not exactly what one would call “taut” because no sense of impending doom is involved, but still, you don’t want to put it down because you want to find your way through the puzzle that Barnard has crafted. Of the four Barnards I read this month, the most thoroughly satisfying. ( )
  wdwilson3 | Jan 30, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743272196, Hardcover)

From Robert Barnard, the internationally acclaimed Diamond Dagger-winning crime writer . . .

Some memories are better left buried in the past. Well-known author Graham Broadbent has managed to repress one particularly dangerous memory for many years, but a trip home to a school reunion brings back the shocking reality of a desperate youthful passion.

It all begins with a knock on Graham's hotel door. His visitor is nineteen-year-old Christa, who read in the newspaper that he would be in town. She introduces herself as his long-lost daughter. His daughter? It's true that many years ago Graham had a fling with Christa's mother, an exquisitely alluring school actress named Peggy Somers. The dates don't work, though. Graham maintains he was out of the country when Christa was conceived. He couldn't be her father.

He's almost sorry that he can't claim Christa, a lively young woman who intrigues him in a strange way. And what about Christa's mother, the formidable Peggy, who made such an impression when she portrayed Saint Joan in the school play all those years ago? Why would she have lied to Christa about her paternity? Why name Graham as the girl's father?

Separated from his wife, at loose ends in his writing, Graham takes the fateful step of searching out Peggy. It's a big mistake. Peggy's life, which started with such promise, has been a major disappointment. Now it's about to become a disaster. Peggy lies. She fabricates. She fantasizes. She is the kind of person who will destroy Graham if he lets her.

As Graham finds himself drawn increasingly into the turmoil surrounding this woman and her children, he must deal with deception and, ultimately, with murder. The sins of the past return to haunt the living, and the lives of those who survive will never be the same.

Writing with the piercing insight and wit for which he is renowned, Robert Barnard creates a poignant masterpiece of mystery, as thoughtful as it is entertaining.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:38 -0400)

"Some memories are better left buried in the past. Well-known author Graham Broadbent has managed to repress one particularly dangerous memory for many years, but a trip home to a school reunion brings back the shocking reality of a desperate youthful passion." "It all begins with a knock on Graham's hotel door. His visitor is nineteen-year-old Christa, who read in the newspaper that he would be in town. She introduces herself as his long-lost daughter. His daughter? It's true that many years ago Graham had a fling with Christa's mother, an exquisitely alluring school actress named Peggy Somers. The dates don't work, though. Graham maintains he was out of the country when Christa was conceived. He couldn't be her father." "He's almost sorry that he can't claim Christa, a lively young woman who intrigues him in a strange way. And what about Christa's mother, the formidable Peggy, who made such an impression when she portrayed Saint Joan in the school play all those years ago? Why would she have lied to Christa about her paternity? Why name Graham as the girl's father?" "Separated from his wife, at loose ends in his writing, Graham takes the fateful step of searching out Peggy. It's a big mistake. Peggy's life, which started with such promise, has been a major disappointment. Now it's about to become a disaster. Peggy lies. She fabricates. She fantasizes. She is the kind of person who will destroy Graham if he lets her. As Graham finds himself drawn increasingly into the turmoil surrounding this woman and her children, he must deal with deception and, ultimately, with murder. The sins of the past return to haunt the living, and the lives of those who survive will never be the same."--BOOK JACKET. "Graham Broadbent, a successful novelist, enjoys a quiet life of writing and occasionally meeting up with old friends. On the evening of one such occasion, when he is due to be the special guest at his elderly ex-teacher's reunion dinner, a rather intriguing surprise arrives at his door in the form of Christabel, a pretty blonde nineteen-year-old. 'Hello Dad' are her first words as he opens the door to her." "To his knowledge, Graham has no children and he is certain that he can't be this girl's father, even though her mother - the small-time actress Peggy Somers, whom he briefly knew at school - has filled her head since childhood with the ridiculous notion." "There is every reason why Graham should do nothing about this strange intrusion into his life. He knows he should just send the girl away and forget all about the incident. And yet all sorts of irrational urges make him act against his own common sense: he simply can't stop himself getting involved." "As he becomes ever more embroiled in the lives of Christa, her brother and their fantasist mother, Graham is forced to take a trip down memory lane. And when Peggy is found strangled on Brightlingsea mudflats, Graham knows he must look into the dying flames of their past to find her killer."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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