The Dying Alderman opens with the ponderous speech of Alderman Dodleigh, hiding the subject of affordable housing under a stifling blanket of verbiage.
“Right nobly have our predecessors, in many cases our forefathers, fulfilled the onerous duties of public office, of public responsibility…”
Understandably, the new Chief Constable – an ex-military man rather than a policeman – is more interested in Alderman Cottle’s potted guide to the Council members than in sifting the thin threads of wheat from this chaff, but the topic is one which is to suddenly develop an uncomfortable interest, as Mr Garret, one of the Council members leaps in with a dramatic claim of corruption in the ranks. When the Mayor – the gentlemanly Sir John Assington – attempts to squash Garret, Alderman Trant – young, energetic and decidedly ungentle – backs the Councillor up, even suggesting that he actually knows who is responsible for leaking confidential information.
Shortly thereafter, Alderman Trant has a Swedish knife in his neck, a number of people are under suspicion and Chief Constable Race is faced with starting his career in the deep and murky end of the pool.
‘The Dying Alderman’ is one of Henry Wade’s non-Inspector Poole novels and it is fascinating to watch the attempts of three very different investigators to resolve the case. Superintendant Vorley has plenty of local knowledge but is hampered by prejudice and a bullying manner; Scotland Yard Detective Lott is sharp but cocksure; Chief Constable Race is observant and intelligent, but suffers from inexperience and divided loyalties. Race, in fact, is reluctant to suspect anyone, from Alderman Trant’s wife, who discovered the body but is rather attractive, to Sir John Assington, who secured him the job of Chief Constable, to Sergeant-Major Hallis, who was in his unit in the war. And then there are Edgar Sittle, an inconspicuous clerk and the distractingly named Voce Mardyke. But, really, the murderer could have been almost anyone – though help is at hand in the form of a Dying Clue, a scribble left by the understandably wobbly hand of the victim (and, to me, more reminiscent of a series of decapitated stick figures, boogying, than what it is actually supposed to represent).
As usual with Wade, the characterisation is decent, the police are fallible without being fatheaded and the background detail, of the tensions in the Council and within police ranks, is well-observed. The main flaw is that the murderer is very easy to guess for any experienced GAD reader. But, if you don’t consider this an insuperable obstacle, then ‘The Dying Alderman’ is well worth reading.