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The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh

Of all the many programmes I have listened to courtesy of radioarchive (and of course BBC7) the crimes and thrillers have been particularly enjoyable.  Merrison and Williams (later Sachs) make a peerless Holmes and Watson, Carmichael the perfect Wimsey, Moffat a pin sharp Poirot and June Whitfield my favourite Miss Marple and let us not forget the huge works of R D Wingfield.

I actually met June Whitfield last year when I was a cameraman at a poetry / prose evening at Ely Cathedral and had I said anything (as opposed good evening which was the actual conversation) it would have been to complement her on her performance as St Mary Meads finest.  A few years ago it would have been questions about Take it from here, Ab Fab and Hancock.

I hope digression is the spice of life as this is certainly gooing to be that kind of review.

So back to ‘The Wyndham Case’.  Murders in our Oxbridge universities always have a certain appeal and several of the threads behind this story offer quite a hook for a crime fan. Firstly is Jill Paton Walsh herself.  My only knowledge of her was in her work on the two Wimsey novels.  Finishing Thrones, Dominations and her own Presumption of Death.  She is obviously a very talented and literate writer and a great partner/sucessor to Dorothy L Sayers for those novels.

The idea of a library within the university which is at the centre of an important centuries old trust (of which the books are both the least and most important part) has a nice rich taste to it, and the finding of a murder in it’s supposedly locked room sets the scene well.

The lead character Imogen Quy I found less enticing.  Now remember I am reviewing the radio adaptation, NOT the novel – I have not read it, but of course neither should I need to. Quite what makes Imogen the amateur sleuth remained in the dark for me.  Likewise her relationship with the policeman on the case never quite explained. In a 1 hour play something had to go so that is perhaps forgivable, but more importantly the dénouement seemed was neither a surprise, nor important and the killer really has to have centre stage for those few moments. I simply didn’t care.  Strangely enough all the material relating to the actual Wyndham case was quite engrossing, as were the various shenanigans of the librarians, but surely the thread of the murders should have taken centre stage.

The plot underlying it all is very good, with multiple threads which are nicely closed at the end.  What was missing was motivations.  Both the sleuth and the murderer.
There is no fault with the production or the cast and it may be that 1 hour is simply not enough. This was an adaptation, not a radio play, and much of the denseness of the novel must have been dropped.  Had it been adapted like the Wimsey books over 2 or more hours I may have had a different opinion.  It was adapted by Neville Teller (who has a great track record, especially with PD James) so the lack of accuracy is even more surprising.

Would I recommend it, yes, it is an enjoyable hour’s listen, but unlike your first encounter with Wimsey I am not sure you will be eagerly awaiting more.


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