I picked this gem off a free shelf way back when I worked at Penguin Putnam (so long ago that they've changed the name of the company). I knew I liked John Mortimer, because of his Rumpole series: not just the characters, but the scenarios he came up with and especially the surprise plot twists. I have to say, though, that every time I tried to pick up this book I was put off by the cover. Something about it, combined with the title, made me think the book was a sequel and that I would suffer from not having met the characters before. Turns out it's number one in the Rapstone Chronicles series, and this edition was a tie-in to the Masterpiece Theatre production, which explains the cover and the fact that it was on the free shelf. I just may have to track down the rest of the series.
The main action is in the mid-eighties, but there are plenty of flashbacks to the fifties and before. I enjoyed the book in spite of the overbearing sense of sadness and disappointment. Several of the characters have lives absolutely unredeemed by happiness, though others certainly enjoy poetic justice. The beauty of the countryside, however, doesn't quite alleviate the grimness, though the book ends on a somewhat hopeful note. I always feel a bit shallow when I proclaim my preference for cheerful books, but if I'm going to invest my time, why should I be made miserable. In this book, though the characters are almost all sad and trapped by their decisions and circumstances, on ecan feel removed enough to appreciate the twists of fate that affect them. I will continue to seek out Mortimer's work, Rumple and otherwise, from time to time, but I think I'll look for an Alexander McCall Smith Botswana book next to bring a spot of warmth and brightness to this dreary winter.