- Title: The Valley of the Shadow
- Author: Carola Dunn
- Series: Cornish Mystery #3
- Genre: Cozy mystery
- Format: Hardcover
- Source: Library
- Reviewed by: Olga
- Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Description: While out on a walk, Eleanor Trewynn, her niece Megan, and her neighbor Nick spot a young, half-drowned Indian man floating in the water. Delirious and concussed, he utters a cryptic message about his family being trapped in a cave and his mother dying. The young man, unconscious and unable to help, is whisked away to a hospital while a desperate effort is mounted to find the missing family in time.
The local police inspector presumes that they are refugees from East Africa, abandoned by the smugglers who brought them in, so while the countryside is being scoured for the family, Eleanor herself descends into a dangerous den of smugglers in a desperate search to find the man responsible while there is still time.
Review: This mystery is so cozy it doesn’t even have a murder. Although there are definitely victims, bodies floating in the sea, and a villain, the crime itself is entangled with the British foreign policies of the 1960s or perhaps ’70s – the author herself is unclear on her dates.
The entire root for the crime is an immigration issue. When the British Empire began to crumble in the ’60s, many African states, previously under the British rule, declared independence. British citizens were expelled. The white Brits returned to England. Unfortunately, many East Indians also worked for the British in Africa and held British passports. They were expelled too, of course, but the British government denied them the rights to settle in England. Those people had nowhere else to go. No other country, India included, would grant them citizenship. With British passports but no entry visas, many of them had no choice but vagrancy. Others opted for some illegal ways into the country. And of course, where the law is so inhuman it has to be broken, a number of greedy felons enter the fray. Human smuggling, money, and racism intertwine in unholy combinations, creating the background for this story.
Most of the characters investigating the crime are familiar to the readers from the previous novels of the series. Our old acquaintances include Eleanor, an absent-minded, retired lady who forgets to lock her doors but always remembers people and faces, and her niece Megan, a sergeant with the Cornish Police. There is also Megan’s boss, the grumpy DI Scumble, and Eleanor’s assorted friends and neighbors. Together, they solve the crime perpetrated before the novel started, but I won’t relay the details here to avoid spoilers. I would also point out that it’s not necessary to read the other novels of the series to appreciate this one; it stands firmly on its own.
The action is rather lagging, despite the urgency of the victims’ situation. Too many unnecessary chats, tea cups, and other trifling aspects are woven into the tale like red herrings, so the readers always wonder, together with the heroes: is this man important? Will this woman play a role later in the story? Some of those hints even pay off eventually, while others peter to nothing.
As always in Carola Dunn’s novels, I found a number of delightful British colloquialisms, some new to me, others not, but all worth repeating:
Fascia – a board over a shop front
Hoick – to rise or raise something abruptly and sharply
Gimbal – a device (see the technical explanation elsewhere)
Load of codswallop – nonsense, lots of it
On the whole – an easy, entertaining read, although nothing special.