Murder, fraud and panties

Spousal abuse and adultery runs alongside the red thread of murder through A Timely Death, Janet Neel’s latest in her series about the British detecting duo of Francesca Wilson and John McLeish.

As the newly promoted chief detective superintendent, McLeish is called in to investigate the death of a man who was launched into eternity, found hanging from his kitchen ceiling while wearing women’s underwear. The case is sensitive in a number of ways: the victim was co-owner of a company selling time-shares to its hotels in Majorca and being investigated by the Fraud Squad, and one of the suspects is a member of Parliament.

But William Price’s proved timely for a number of other suspects as well. The payout from his life insurance policy would keep the police away and save the business that threatens to sink his wife and business partner. It would also his two sons’ trust fund that he raided to pay bills for expensive houses, a yacht, and other perks.

All of this would not have involved Francesca, except that Annabelle, the girlfriend of one of the sons, checks into the women’s shelter where she’s working. As she’s counseling her, she also becomes involved with the shelter’s attorney, a handsome young man who sparks a number of conflicting feelings in her. McLeish is tempted on the job as well when a former flame is charged with investigating the company.

“A Timely Death” has the possibility of turning into a very hot book, part soap opera, part mystery, but we end up with a cool, conventional story that doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to distinguish itself. Francesca’s estrangement from her husband due to his long hours seems shallow and unconvincing, and makes her a unlikable lead. Left to his own devices, John is a cipher, meaning the suspects have to carry the load. Only the Annabelle’s growth as a character, the competent doctor dealing with her bullying boyfriend, gives “A Timely Death” its emotional power.