Peter Collins, a psychologist and profiler who helps the local Hampstead police in London with murder cases, is attending a meeting of the Crime Writers Association. He’s a speaker, and his non-fiction book on poisons used in Golden Age mystery stories (cyanide being a favorite). At the association dinner, which he attends with his girlfriend, Detective Sergeant Karen Willis, he’s suddenly confronted with the real thing – murder, and by cyanide.
The victim is Ann Durham, a towering figure in the association. Her biggest creative successes were in the past, but she still commands – and offends. The police initially believe it might be suicide, but where’s the bottle that held the cyanide? And who handed Durham her last drink?
Detective Superintendent Simon Collison leads the investigation, and he soon learns that his team is traveling down a number of different paths. Suspects abound – the writer seeking to unseat Durham as head of the association; Durham’s daughter and boyfriend; an angry young woman who believes Durham robbed her father and grandfather; and more. One of the suspects is a character actress who has assumed her favorite role so well that it’s rumored she’s even changed her name – to Miss Marple. And like her namesake, she calmly (and accurately) predicts a second murder, “because there always is, isn’t there?”
A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson is the third in the Hampstead Murder series, and it keeps the reader guessing all the way to the end. And while Fraser-Sampson is telling a good murder story, he’s also developing the side stories of his investigators, with Collison and his wife imminently expecting their first child; Collins and Willis in a rather unusual relationship with Bob Metcalfe, another detective on the investigating team; and Trent Allen, the same rank as Collison but who has to swallow his competitiveness and serve as Collison’s #2.
Fraser-Sampson is perhaps better known as an investment funds manager and business consultant. He’s a member of the teaching staff of the Cass Business School in London, an investment columnist, and the author of four books on finance and investment. In the history and fiction areas, he’s written a history of the Plantagenets, a review of cricket from 1967 to 1977 when the color barriers where breaking down, two successor novels to Mapp and Lucia novels of E.F. Benson, and now this Hampstead Murder series.
A Whiff of Cyanide is another solid, enjoyable entry in the Hampstead series.