"Murder on the Moor" by C. S. Challanor is an entertaining take on the traditional country house "whodunnit" and provides a fourth outing for serial sleuth Rex Graves, the Edinburgh barrister with a penchant for solving crimes that have proved beyond the wit and wisdom of the normal forces of law and order. This time the events that unfold prove very close to home. He invites a disparate group of friends to a housewarming party to his new country retreat at Gleneagle Lodge in the Highlands. Throw in some unexpected arrivals, some untoward interactions, and stir gently, and it is perhaps no real surprise when the first body turns up: but is it really the first body, and will it be the last?
In the modern world of high speed Internet and mobile phones, an author seeking to created a "closed" murder mystery has problems that would have been unknown to Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle. How do you preserve the "rules" of a closed murder mystery: a finite list of suspects unable to leave the scene or communicate with the outside world, and an amateur sleuth left in charge for long enough to reach a conclusion? C.S. Challanor's approach is an interesting one, but if you suspend disbelief just a little, it produces a nice yarn that genuinely engages the reader. OK, it may be unlikely that in this day and age a cast of ten would only muster two mobile phones between them (a reception blackspot might have been more credible), but slash all the vehicle tyres, and have the emergency phone operator decline to send police to a murder on the grounds they are already busy, and the conditions are mostly right.
On the other hand, would a murder take place in even the most backward of third world countries without the police attending in time to allow the possibility of forensic evidence being collected before the body is taken away in an ambulance? Add in some Scottish accents that read very oddly indeed and a slightly malleable geography that relies, for example, on shorter journey times between the stated location for the fictional Gleneagles Lodge and Rannoch Moor than seems likely in practice, and the end result is a book that succeeds on many levels, but is probably more likely to be enjoyed by someone whose focus is not going to be tripped up by too deep a knowledge of the setting within which it has been placed.