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A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy is the third novel in the Inspector Ramsay series by Ann Cleeves, author of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope crime series.
For Dorothea Cassidy Thursdays were special. Every week she would look forward to the one day she could call her own, and would plan to visit people she wanted to see as a welcome respite from the routine duties that being a vicar's wife entailed. But one Thursday in June was to be more special than any other. It was the day that Dorothea Cassidy was strangled.
As the small town of Otterbridge prepares for its summer carnival, Inspector Stephen Ramsay begins a painstaking reconstruction of Dorothea's last hours. He soon discovers that she had taken on a number of deserving cases – a sick and lonely old woman, a disturbed adolescent, a compulsive gambler, a single mother with a violent boyfriend and a child in care – and even her close family have their secrets to hide. All these people are haunted, in one way or another, by Dorothea's goodness. But which of them could have possibly wanted her dead?
It is not until a second body is discovered that Ramsay starts to understand how Dorothea lived – and why she died. With the carnival festivities in full swing and dusk falling in Otterbridge, Ramsay's murder investigation reaches its chilling climax . . .
Cleeves ( Murder in My Backyard ) allows her respect for the traditional mystery to fossilize her writing into a formula. The victim is the vicar's wife. The setting is a prototypical English town during a fair. The detective, Inspector Ramsay, is an unmarried and singularly brainy member of the constabulary ably assisted by a loyal sergeant who desperately desires action, not theories. Ramsay is as mundane and conventional as the trappings, as he tries to understand the victim while tracing her last hours of life. Meanwhile a succession of suspects is paraded for the reader's inspection, including the victim's stepson, his insecure girlfriend, a half-witted young man half in love with the victim, a dying widow, a social worker and an alcoholic ne'er-do-well. Unfortunately, none of them grabs our attention or loyalty, even after the half-wit is the victim of the inevitable second murder. The pace slowly picks up after that, and the concluding 20 or so pages are suspenseful and fast-paced, but they seem slim reward for readers who must slog through the first 190 pages of cliched two-dimensionality to get there.