Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hard Case Crime is a line of hardboiled paperback crime novels that has set out to capture the mood of crime novels of the 1940s and 1950s, with their noir charm and pulp-style covers. Russell's Hill "Robbie's Wife" is the first book in this line that I have read, and I can only say (not very eloquently) "Wow!" It rarely happens to me that I read a book in one sitting, but I have not been able to put this book away.
Jack Stone, a 60-year old screenwriter from Los Angeles suffers from writer's block. He flies to England and drives to Dorset, where he plans to work on a new script in the quiet countryside. While staying at the Sheepheaven Farm Bed & Breakfast he falls in love with Maggie, the 40-year old wife of the owner and a sheep farmer, Robbie.
It is one of the most unusual mysteries or crime dramas that I have ever read in that almost half of the novel is a beautifully written love story. The prose in that part is sublime (for once, a blurb on the cover is truthful), and reminds me of J.L. Carr's "A Month in the Country" or L.P. Hartley's "The Go-Between". There is not even a hint of any crime. Then, quite suddenly everything happens. The military enforce a quarantine because of the foot-and-mouth disease. The scenes of slaughtering sheep and burning their carcasses by hundreds are unforgettable. A murder occurs as well and the remaining part of the novel is a captivating psychological thriller.
I find the ending a bit of a letdown. Still, it is quite enigmatic and invites the reader's interpretation. "Robbie's Wife" is a better read than the books by usual bestseller writers. It is so different, fresh, unclassifiable, and charming yet suspenseful. A really great read!
Four and a quarter stars.
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