"Skeleton at the Feast" is yet another compelling and riveting installment in the Yorkshire Mystery series that features the broodingly charismatic Detective Chief Inspector, Michael Thackeray.
In "Skeleton at the Feast," Thackeray has been sent to Oxford University (his alma mater) in order to attend a summer course on police management. In reality however, Thackeray has been sent out of Bradfield while his fate is being decided -- a young police officer had been shot under his command, and Thackeray is now facing an inquiry into whether or not he is to be held accountable for her untimely death. For Thackeray however, being in Oxford again resurrects all kinds of painful memories of not really fitting in, being harassed by the snobby upper-class students with whom he played rugby, and the tragic accidental death of one of the first women to be admitted to St. Frideswides (Thackerary's college). And when Thackeray's old tutor, Hugh Greenaway, and current Master of St. Frideswides asks Thackeray to unofficially look into the disappearance of a senior don and an old undergraduate rugby foe, Dr. Mark Harrison, he reluctantly agrees to do so. But when he meets the don's abandoned wife, Thackeray realises that there is a whole lot more going on then Greenaway had led him to believe. Motivated by sympathy for Mrs. Harrison, and a desire to see justice done, Thackeray begins to look deeply into the affairs of the missing Mark Harrison, and discovers that Harrison is not the only person missing from Oxford. His young mistress seems to be missing as well; and not only has her disappearance been ignored, but few seem to care as to her whereabouts. Angry that once again unsavory misdeeds are being swept under the carpet, Thackeray is determined to discover the truth and to bring it out into the open. The once friendly Greenaway tries to warn Thackeray off, but will independently minded Thackeray listen?
What makes "Skeleton at the Feast" such great reading is that we get to know a little bit more about DCI Michael Thackery and the past that haunts him and that helped shape him. We also get to see how much policing in England seems to have become a little bit less the pursuit of law and order, and more about clearance rates and numbers. And while the Oxford events that are related in "Skeleton at the Feast" make for compelling reading, what makes this mystery novel doubly interesting is that Patricia Hall has juxtaposed what occurs in Oxford with a case of violent assault that has taken place in Bradfield which Thackeray's sidekicks DS Mower and DC Ridley have to cope with under the command of the new acting head, the ambitious DI Jackie Bairstow, who is after Thackeray's job. How Hall manages to juxtapose these two different subplots, and yet makes everything seem so seamless, is absolutely brilliant.
The greatest charm about this series (and book) is that Patricia Hall has created a group of characters whose well-being we have come to care about. With each new mystery novel we learn a little more of each character and empathise with the ups and downs in their lives. The Yorkshire Mystery is a wonderfully absorbing series, and "Skeleton at the Feast" fits in superbly.