Monday, July 03, 2017

Aubrey Hamilton Reviews: Dead in the Dog by Bernard Knight

This first Monday in July brings us another new review by Aubrey Hamilton. This week she reviews Dead in the Dog by Bernard Knight. Make sure you check out her other reviews on these pages as she is putting together quite an interesting reading list.

Dead in the Dog by Bernard Knight (Severn House, 2012) is the first and so far the only book featuring Dr. Tom Howden, a recently qualified pathologist who has joined Her Majesty’s military forces battling Communist insurgents in 1950s Malaya. Knight is better known for his Crowner John series, 15 titles featuring Sir John de Wolfe, an early coroner, in 12th century Devon. Another trilogy features a private forensics practice in 1950s England. Given the same focus on pathology in all three series, I was not surprised to learn that Dr. Knight was a full-time forensic pathologist before he took up writing mysteries.

The book opens with Howden’s arrival in Perak State, where he quickly becomes acquainted with the other medical personnel and hears all about the neighborhood personalities, including the director of the hospital whose behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. When the home of an obnoxious local planter is fired on and then he’s found dead a few days later, it’s hard to know whether to blame the insurgents or one of the many in the British community that he’s offended. Howden is called on to perform his very first autopsy in the mortuary of the field hospital, using instruments that are decades out of date.

The book capitalizes on the author’s tour as an Army medical officer in Malaya, describing the oppressive heat, the jungle, and the rubber plantations in graphic detail. The Dog of the title is the local officers’ drinking establishment, where much of the action plays out. He captures the endless gossip of a closed community perfectly, in which people are so bored that the smallest action or word from another person gives rise to comment and speculation.

This is the first mystery I’ve encountered set in this remote part of Southeast Asia and the first mention I can remember of this particular war. A quick check on the Internet reveals a complicated political history of independent states uniting and then disbanding, along with Japanese occupation and British colonization. The Federation of Malaya was formed in 1948 and achieved independence from Britain in 1957. During this time the Malaya communist party decided to try to overrun the fragile government, giving rise to what is known as the Malayan Emergency. Britain was not willing to relinquish its grasp on the world’s primary source of tin and rubber and deployed its military to the area for about 10 years. In many ways it mirrors the U.S. conflict in Vietnam that followed soon after. This book conveys the general instability of the region clearly.  A well-written story, a so-so mystery with a rushed ending, and an intriguing time and place.
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Severn House Publishers; World ed. edition (July 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0727881612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0727881618

Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.

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