Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird

May 4, 2015 Book Reviews 4 ★★★★

Henrietta Who? by Catherine AirdHenrietta Who? by Catherine Aird
Series: Sloan & Crosby #2
Published by Open Road Media on 5/05/15
Genres: British mystery
Format: eARC
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars
Also in this series: The Religious Body
Also by this author: The Religious Body

In this mystery by CWA Diamond Dagger winner Catherine Aird, Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan must find a ruthless hit-and-run killer

Early one morning in the quiet English village of Larking, the body of a woman named Mrs. Jenkins is found in the road. Miles away, her daughter, Henrietta, receives the bad news while working in the university library. Poor Mrs. Jenkins appears to have been the victim of a horrible car accident.

When an autopsy proves not only that this was no accident but also that Mrs. Jenkins had never had a child, young Henrietta’s life is thrown upside down. If she’s not Mrs. Jenkins’s daughter, then who is she? It’s up to Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan of the Calleshire police force to bring the murderer to justice—and a sense of order back to Henrietta’s life.

Proclaimed by the New York Times in 1968 to be one of the year’s best books, Henrietta Who? is a first-order English whodunit that’ll keep you guessing until the end.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review

Henrietta Who is the second mystery featuring Inspector Sloan and the hapless Constable Crosby, and it remains one of my favorites. Aird piles mystery upon mystery: Was Grace Jenkins’ death truly accidental? If she’s not Henrietta’s mother, how did she come to raise Henrietta on her own? What about Henrietta’s deceased father – why are his war medals not the same as the ones he’s wearing in his portrait? And when Henrietta then discovers that there is no Cyril Edgar Jenkins on the regimental monument – and then sees the man from the portrait in the street – the questions only multiply. Who is the man in the portrait? Is he any relation to Henrietta? The police are on the track of a killer, but Henrietta has her own, more urgent question: Who am I?

It’s up to Sloan to find the answers to all these questions, and he does, with his usual quiet determination. Sloan isn’t a brilliant detective in the mold of a Holmes or Poirot; instead, he is a dedicated policeman. He doesn’t give up, and he’s certainly intelligent enough to put the pieces together, but he does so not through flair but through painstaking detective work: asking questions, checking alibis, looking for motive and opportunity. He’s also a keen observer of both detail and human nature, crucial skills in his line of work.

Crosby is generally of little help, but he does provide low-key comic relief. The joke on the force is that somewhere in the uniform division, there’s a man with the same name who ought to have been promoted to the plainclothes detection squad. Crosby lacks the curiosity required of a detective, but occasionally he comes up with a clue, sometimes without realizing it. He’s less observant than even Watson or Poirot’s friend Hastings, but like them, he serves as a foil for Sloan: someone to whom Sloan can explain things or think out loud, as well as someone to take on the less interesting tasks and errands (searching the records, checking the ground for clues, etc.)

The plot of this mystery is complicated even for Aird, who excels at inventive plots. And she develops it perfectly, uncovering first more questions and then, eventually, the clues that finally bring the mystery to a satisfying conclusion. The pacing is just right, and Sloan’s (and Aird’s) understated humor and occasional dry irony make Henrietta Who? a delight to read. Incidentally, it also holds up remarkably well, but you should remember that it was written and is set in the early 1960s; there are no cell phones and decidedly no Internet, which means (among other things) that records searches take much longer to accomplish.

I first read Henrietta Who? in my twenties, and I’ve been an Aird fan ever since. So I was delighted to see that Open Road is reissuing most of her early books in print and ebook format. Her mysteries are a wonderful blend of police procedural and cozy mystery, low on violence and heavy on character, plot, and above all a challenging intellectual puzzle. She’s easily as good as Christie, and stylistically, her writing is better. If you haven’t made Aird’s acquaintance yet, by all means go read Henrietta Who? or the first Inspector Sloan book, The Religious Body. And enjoy!

four-stars

About Catherine Aird

Catherine Aird (born 1930) is the pseudonym of author Kinn Hamilton McIntosh. She was born in Yorkshire, and is the author of more than twenty crime fiction novels and story collections.

Aird is creator of the Sloan and Crosby novels, set in the CID department of the fictional Berebury, West Calleshire, England. She served as Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association from 1990-91. She holds an honorary M. A. from the University of Kent and received the M.B.E. for her services to the Girl Guide Association. She lives in England.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2015

4 Responses to “Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      She’s not as well known in the US as she is in Britain, but she was relatively popular in the mid-to-late 80s, when I was a bookseller/bookstore manager. I’m not quite as fond of her later work as I am of the earlier titles, like this one.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I LOVE A Most Contagious Game – but it’s one of her only standalones. The Sloan & Crosby series is pretty darn good, especially the first 10 books or so.