I have never had the (mis)fortune of reading a case history typed by a police typist or a court typist to be stored in the cold room purely for the purpose of record keeping. But reading the novel Wycliffe and the Quiet Virgin, I had the distinct feeling as to how I might feel while reading such a report. Just like an official report which would definitely be boring filled with mundane language and scenes not painted to create thrill or excitement in the reader, this instalment of Wycliffe mysteries written by W.J. Burley is just the same. This is a book which fails to create any kind of excitement or sense of thrill in the reader. What it definitely creates, are situations where the reader feels almost compelled to set aside the book and mark it as ‘unfinished’.
But what stopped me from putting down the book was the fact; despite its flaws of being slow with mundane dialogues and very ordinary characters is the plot. The plot, just like some real life crime, is a wonderful whodunit. Wycliffe while vacationing with a lawyer friend of his watches a local play where a young girl playing the lead catches his eye. The girl, Francine, having the local reputation of being a difficult child disappears the next day as her mother is found murdered with her father missing. Wycliffe being the senior police in the locality takes up the case only to find that the current crime is related to something that happened five years back.
Yes, the culprit, the victim, the side characters including Wycliffe all come out as un-exotic characters who fails to incite any kind of love, sympathy or hatred towards them. Yet when put in the plot they fit in their roles perfectly, just like a real life criminal and a victim would fit. We would ohh and aah on them while reading them as news in the newspaper, but would forget them, their crimes and everything related to them the moment a new crime comes along. Just as I would definitely forget Wycliffe, the crime, the criminal as soon as I pick up the next book.
I always stress that the plot is more important than characters. But, if it happens that the dialogues, the scenes, the characters; other than the plot every other aspect for a crime novel turns out to be taken out of a police report then that book becomes something that I would definitely not recommend to any reader. If you are a dedicated crime reader then go for it, or else there are better works of crime fiction lying around.