this is the 201st in my series of forgotten or seldom read books
Wycliffe and the Quiet Virgin by W.J. Burley
“Marsden opened his eyes; the plaster between the rafters was greyish white, the rafters themselves cobalt blue, painted by Emma; spider’s webs in the corners.”
It’s the twenty-third of December, and Chief Super-intendent Wycliffe is not looking forward to Christmas. With his wife away in Kenya, he has accepted an invitation from a slight friend, Penzance lawyer Ernest Bishop, to spend a few days at the Bishops’ cliff-top home on the Cornish coast. When Wycliffe arrives, the weather is bleak, the house is remote, and the welcome from the family no more than polite. He has the distinct feeling he is in the way.
On Christmas Eve, the local church puts on it’s annual nativity play, the part of the Virgin played by Francine, a pretty teenage girl. Wycliffe is impressed by her singing and acting ability, and afterwards goes with many other members of the audience to compliment her. But she is nowhere to be found. She went to the dressing room, changed into in her regular clothes and then went missing.
When she hasn’t returned home by morning, Wycliffe is asked to initiate a search, which he does with no success. But then, on Christmas day, the girl’s mother is found dead, and the missing persons search becomes a major crime investigation with Wycliffe directing it.
Not unexpectedly, the past has it’s influence on events. The girl’s father has just gotten out of prison, was his crime related to the girl’s dissappearence? He also vanishes, thereby becoming a prime suspect. But would he have killed his wife, and if so, why? And where is the daughter?
This is a well written, moody, atmospheric mystery with strong character and sense of place. I hadn’t read any of the Wycliffe books, but after reading this, I’ve gathered a few more to try and it won’t be long before I get to another one.