Last Seen Alive
I’m really getting a bit wary of some of the dagger awards – this one picking up a ‘silver’ in 1985. Maybe it’s got some interest as a historical / social indicator – what was popular at that time – but in terms of quality fiction, even quality for the genre, this is average fare.
I suppose Simpson really chimed with her audience, who I imagine to be nice enough middle-class suburban folks. They could enjoy a lead character who is a bit of a dream family man: as Carma Pollard enthuses in her amazon review, “Not only is he a great detective but also a wonderful father and husband!” The tortured, dysfunctional, damaged, flawed, ambiguous detective is such well-travelled territory, this could be a refreshing contrast (and dammit if I didn’t enjoy the relatively subversive wholesomeness of ‘Foyle’s War’ – does it get any more wholesome than Honeysuckle Weeks? She’s called ‘Honeysuckle’ for goodness sake!), and I suppose it was for everyday 80s folks dealing with the continuing slide from family friendly fare. Simpson, I suppose, buys right into the fears of the beleaguered conservative folks, with the subplot of dealing with kids glue-sniffing, with dialogue reading like it was a lifted straight from a community information leaflet, and solving it with highly stylised (as opposed to realistic) interaction. Colour for another character comes from a couple being gazumped – the sort of issue much closer to the hearts of my imagined readers than the hard-boiled crime staples like alcoholism or trauma following the murder of your wife/lover.