Playing Happy Families by Julian Symons

Mysterious (first), 1995

The Midway clan has been a happy family for thirty years when daughter Jenny disappears leaving no trace. As Detective Superintendent Catchpole investigates, a missing person case turns into a murder trial with no body. Too many false leads make the case a tough one to crack. True to Symons’ form, the crime in the book really exists as background. Jenny’s disappearance and the endless investigation act as a test of the characters’ personalities. The reader watches almost with a magnifying glass as they react, evolve, and in some cases change completely. Catchpole himself comes across as moralizing and old-fashioned when inquiring into the very modern, free-spirited Jenny’s lifestyle. The personalities of Jenny’s parents turn almost completely inside out. Symons manages a neat swipe at the justice system in the character of Jenny’s uncle Giles, a judge, who remains unmoved by a clear miscarriage of justice in a case he hears, even as his niece’s case is about to come to trial. However, the painful detail with which Symons recounts both Catchpole’s investigation and the various Midways’ reactions to the crisis is a liability to the story; the pace lags. (Helen M Francini)

Originally published in Issue # 135 – January/February 1995

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