by Caroline Graham
When elderly Emily Simpson goes hunting a rare orchid, she finds more than she expected.
Deep in the woods, in a small hollow, she sees a naked couple having sex. Even more shocking is recognizing who they are. “She felt as if someone had handed her a ticking bomb.”
As she tries to slip away, she trips on on a tree root. Although she gets up and runs, she knows she’s been seen.
The next day, the postman finds her dead body on the hearth rug. Her lifelong friend, Lucy Bellringer, calls the doctor, who chalks it up to a heart attack.
Miss Bellringer strongly disagrees, noting a number of oddities: the unbolted back door, the single wine glass and the phone number of a local hotline tucked under the phone. All of them are completely out of character with Emily Simpson. Miss Bellringer goes straight to the desk of Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Barnaby.
The Killings at Badger’s Drift won a well-deserved Macavity Award for best first novel in 1989 and was nominated for the same honor at the 1988 Agatha Awards and 1989 Anthony Awards. The Crime Writers’ Association named it one of “The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time.”
This is a tightly written novel that juxtaposes the righteousness of the maidenly Misses Simpson and Bellringer and the postcard tranquility of Badger’s Drift with taboo sex, greed-inspired murder and calculated blackmail. The characters are distinctive and appealing. Barnaby is a keenly observant, experienced policeman who hasn’t become cynical.
The writing is vivid, almost voluptuous at times. When Barnaby and his assistant, Sgt. Troy, go to interview a suspect, their “first sight of Holly Cottage was grey, and austere, squatting on the very edge of the wood like a humped toad.” At another villager’s house, “Barnaby sank into an armchair thickly barnacled with bumps of crochet.”
This novel became the first episode of the British ITV detective drama, “Midsomer Murders,” which has been which has been delighting viewers since 1997. The series is renowned for the sheer volume — three to four murders per episode — and inventiveness of murders that occur in the fictional county of Midsomer for Barnaby and later his younger cousin DCI John Barnaby to solve.
The six books that followed The Killings at Badger’s Drift also became early episodes in the TV drama before a team of scriptwriters took over:
- Death of a Hollow Man (1989). A night at the theater turns bloody when an actor is murdered on stage in an amateur production of Amadeus, in which Barnaby’s wife, Joyce, has a role.
- Death in Disguise (1992). The death of William Carter, a member of a New Age cult, puts the spotlight on rumors of sinister events. One murder leads to another as DCI Barnaby explores a maze of deception, evil and pseudo-supernatural forces.
- Written in Blood (1994). The Midsomer Worthy Writer’s Circle, a group of amateur novelists invited a famous author, Max Jennings to join them as a special guest. Host Gerald Hadleigh forcefully opposes the idea. His refusal to explain his reaction makes it that much harder to understand why he was savagely murdered the morning after he and Jennings were left along together.
- Faithful unto Death (1996). No one raises an eyebrow when local housewife Simone Hollingsworth doesn’t show up for bell-ringing practice — at least until some neighbors spot her husband digging holes in the garden late one night and call DCI Barnaby.
- A Place of Safety (1999). When the wife of the vicar of Ferne Basset, Ann Lawrence, is seen fighting with a homeless girl, Carlotta, on a bridge, there’s a witness. When Carlotta falls over the bridge and doesn’t resurface, there’s blackmail. But then the witness is found strangled and his dog beaten and the blackmail continues. DCI Barnaby soon finds that Ferne Basset isn’t the wholesome burg it appears to be.
- A Ghost in the Machine (2004). When Dennis Brinkley, a collector of old war machines and torture devices is crushed in one of his own machines, it looks like an accident. His best friend believes otherwise and local psychic Ava Garrett says she will ask Dennis directly at an upcoming seance. Then Ms. Garrett is murdered and Barnaby is left with the tangle skein of Brinkley’s friends and associates to unravel.
The Author: Caroline Graham (1931 – )
Caroline Graham’s first published book was a romance, Fire Dance (1982), but the books that brought her fame were the Chief Inspector Barnaby series.
The first of these, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, was published in 1987. In addition to writing novels, Ms. Graham is a playwright and screenwriter. She wrote for the soap opera “Crossroads.”
She earned a degree in writing for the theatre from the University of Birmingham. Ms. Graham lives in Suffolk.