Wycliffe and the Dunes Mystery by W J Burley

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Wycliffe and the Dunes Mystery by W J Burley

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: No 20 out of the 22 Wycliffe novels on which the TV series was based is a well-written and enjoyable read for all. It's probably not one you'd read again in a hurry so it might be better borrowed than bought.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 1994
Publisher: Corgi Adult
ISBN: 0552142212

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The chances are that you've never heard of W J Burley. I only discovered him by accident. Several years ago I spent the best part of a year flat on my back and reading was one of the ways I filled my time. My husband knows that I'm fond of detective novels, particularly 'police-procedurals' and began clearing the crime section at the local library, beginning at the letter A. This method produced some gems such as Robert Barnard, M C Beaton (of Hamish Macbeth fame) and W J Burley, who wrote the novels on which the "Wycliffe" television series was based.

I will admit that I wasn't grateful: invalids so rarely are. I think I said something along the lines of "Oh, no, not a book of the television series. I can't stand those." I hope I was gracious enough to apologise when I realised that W J Burley created Inspector Wycliffe in 1966, but I doubt it. He's had a few promotions since then (Wycliffe, that is - Mr Burley was the senior Biology master at a school in Newquay before he became a full-time writer) and he's now Chief Superintendent.

There is a story progression throughout the series of books, but each can be read on its own without any problems, with the exception of Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine which contains a spoiler for an earlier book. If you did want to begin at the beginning, so to speak, then the first novel is Wycliffe and the Three-Toed Pussy]] and there's a list of the novels in chronological order here.

"Wycliffe and the Dunes Mystery" (first published in 1993) is number 20 of the 22 novels, but don't let that put you off reading it. Back in 1977 six young people slope off for a weekend of fun and frolics at a seaside property owned by one of the parents. Whilst they're there a young man, Cochran Wilder happens by and he's never seen again.

Now Cochran's got a little bit of history to him. He's only recently been released from a psychiatric hospital where he'd been receiving treatment after he was convicted of indecent assault. He's a bit of an embarrassment to his father who's an M.P. After the disappearance, Royston Wilder maintained that his son had been murdered mainly to counter the accusations that he'd driven his son to commit suicide by drowning himself. Fifteen years later Cochran's naked body turns up in the sand dunes after a storm and Wycliffe decides to investigate.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Wycliffe has been so good that his author has had to promote him but that he's now been promoted beyond the investigator's job which is the point of the story. (P D James has the same problem with Adam Dalgliesh.) It's unusual for a Chief Superintendent to investigate this type of case, but Wycliffe is bored with all the paperwork his promotion has brought and takes any opportunity to get back to the sharp end. You will need to suspend disbelief a little on this point. For fans who remember the television series, there's Doug Kersey and Lucy Lane on the case with him.

Burley is excellent at creating the personalities who inhabit his novels. It's easy to empathise with the feeling of the six people who had a naughty weekend back in the seventies and who find themselves involved in a murder investigation in the nineties. It's even easier to suspect that each of them might have been involved not only in the first death but in the second death which occurs whilst Wycliffe investigates. The 'subsequent death' is a common feature in the Wycliffe novels and indeed in many other police procedurals and I've often wondered if a lot of literary lives could have been saved if the initial deaths had never been investigated.

All of Burley's books are very easy reading. His style reminds me strongly of the early Wexford books by Ruth Rendell. He uses simple, straightforward language and doesn't believe in complicated sentence structure. He's certainly a great deal easier to read than P D James where I have, on occasions, had to read a sentence more than once to ensure that I've understood the meaning correctly. Burley is also very good at evoking place. When I read him I feel that I am in Cornwall.

In most of the Wycliffe books, you will find some sexual references but there are no explicit sexual scenes. It's difficult to deal with murder without there being some violence, but it's generally described after the event and with reasonable sensitivity. I'd be happy to recommend the Wycliffe books to anyone - even to a confident young reader.

I did guess the name of the murderer, but it was a guess and I wasn't able to reason it out completely although it was obvious once you knew. All the pointers were there. I finished all 224 pages in a single sitting of about three and a half hours. The book is recommended but is possibly better borrowed than bought. I doubt it's one that would be read again.

W J Burley's Wycliffe Novels in Chronological Order

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