Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Drowning Ground.
Though Marrisonís mystery suggests a fascinating meld of two very different cultures
(the Argentina of transplanted Chief Inspector Guillermo Downesí childhood and the small town ambiance of the English Cotswolds), the protagonistís Latin temperament seems to have grown quiet, dampened by time and more akin to that of his contemporaries. Were it not for his memories and the Argentinean foods he enjoys, the manís origin is easy to forget, save perhaps the darkness of his skin when compared to native English complexions.
Whatever his personal idiosyncrasies, Downes is on a new case and breaking in a new sergeant. Graves replaces others the chief inspector has notoriously disposed of when their personalities donít match his expectations. With the murder of an elderly man--a pitchfork thrust through his throat--Graves is initiated into village policing, thus far not seriously disappointing his new boss. When Downes and Graves arrive at the scene of the murder, the chief inspector recognizes the victim, Frank Hurst, recalling not only the tragic death of Hurstís second wife, Sarah, but the unsolved disappearance of two schoolgirls near the same time ten years ago.
Downes has no idea whether these old cases have relevance to this murder but soon learns that Hurst was harboring many secrets.
His formerly impressive estate stands in shocking disrepair, the windows barred and bricked up against intrusion. Last at the Hurst home when Sarah died in a swimming pool accident, Downes is shocked by the condition of the house. Hurstís daughter, Rebecca, left home shortly after the wifeís death; since then, Frank has been living as though a man besieged. The state of the victimís living conditions contributes to the mystery of his murder, the circumstances that might have brought a vital man so low.
Though the house is barricaded and dark is fast approaching, Downes and Graves make a cursory search but are called back later when the entire place is engulfed in fire. Nearly losing his life in the process, Downes manages to rescue a discovery from the debris: the bones of a dead body he is convinced must belong to one of the missing girls from years before. This sudden twist in a murder investigation suggests the truly serpentine nature of this investigation, but the fragmented clues of crimes winding through Frank Hurstís past prove frustrating, a slow and painful process awaiting detectives (almost as glacial as the movement of the plot). Another murder shortly after Hurstís increases the pressure on Downes and the new sergeant he is beginning to trust
as they pick through the detritus of the dead and the missing.
Marrison fails to take full advantage of the personalities or bizarre circumstances of his murder in the Cotswolds. Downes plods along, poking through Hurstís life, burdened by unfulfilled promises to the families of the two missing girls and Sarah Hurstís drowning, keeping his own counsel. As various characters gradually become more relevant in solving the cases, it is also clear--at least to Downes--that there are more secrets to be unmasked, ugly events buried in the past. The character and charm of the location is lost along the way, a plodding procedural squeezing all the vitality and horror from a tale that should be chilling. Too many observations and too little passion doom The Drowning Ground, evil buried in an avalanche of prose.
(Note: In the first chapter, Downes describes an American car with fond memory, a 1960s-era Ford Falcon. Unfortunately, his description is grossly inaccurate: the Ford Falcon, circa
1962, is a compact car, without frills, not the elaborate wings or heft he describes. This is a small but telling error, easily corrected by a Google search.)