Sunday, 31 May 2009

Review - W. J. BURLEY - "Wycliffe and the Last Rites"

Publ: 1992
My own copy
ISBN: 0 75284 931 X
Genre: Crime
Pages: 220p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** ***

What led you to pick up this book?
Found by Serendipity in charity shop - had read and enjoyed another Wycliffe novel.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
A quiet Cornish village is shaken by a bizarre murder in the church. Chief Superintendent Wycliffe arrives to supervise the investigation but does not solve the crime in time to prevent further outrage from being committed. And what had a sixteen year old unsolved hit-and-run to do with the murder?

What did you think of the characters?
Wycliffe is a good old-fashioned policeman and the characters in the plots are usually fairly predictable. Nevertheless, that helps to make the books comfy reading.

What did you think about the style?
There is an old-fashioned feel to the style of Burley's crime fiction. Never gruesome and an olde-worlde feel to locations and characters. The intricacies of Burley's plots are not too great but skilful enough to make guessing the villain or villains difficult. Ideal cosy crime reading.

What did you like most about the book?
The steady, comfy feeling that escapist fiction like this gives you. Not too much effort is involved but enough to sustain the interest and make the reading enjoyable.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
The cover, designed by Nick Castle, includes a rather good photo by Richard Jenkins.

Would I recommend it?


Bt that was logic and she had never found much consolation in logic.

Perhaps books, even on shelves, have a civilising influence. What sort of deviant feels belligerent in a library?
(By Jove, I could tell you lots of stories about belligerence in libraries, as could any librarian or ex-librarian.)

But this was a good place. Perhaps a place to die in. Death, he imagined, might come easily, unnoticed, stealing like a mist up the river.

W J Burley
- see 'Wycliffe and Death in Stanley Street '


  1. I've got several of these that I picked up earlier this spring at a mystery bookshop--wanted the Cornwall setting. I'm glad to hear they're good as I hadn't heard anything about them from other readers.

  2. Just reading a third one now, Danielle, and equally pleased with this one - Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death.

  3. I was quite surprised and pleased to find such a recent review of the Burley book, but I have to disagree with most of your assessment.
    I've read three, I think, but I'm underwhelmed.

    I realise that the character is a formula piece, but unlike, say, Nero Wolfe or Maigret, Wycliffe is irregularly presented and inconsistent. Sometimes he's withdrawn and introspective, sometimes a relaxed and gentle oberver of human nature, sometimes ready to produce a theatrical effect with a contrived display of temper, and sometimes quite genuinely pettish. I don't think 'complexity of character' answers this. If it's an attempt to show complexity, it's jerky and ineffective. It took the TV adapters and Jack Shepherd to give Wycliffe an identity. And apart from the fact that I'm a devoted fan of Jackie Boy, I much prefer that Wycliffe portrayal to the one -- no, I mean ones -- in the books. And usually, I wish I hadn't watched TV portayals and allowed them to distort my own mental picture.

    As to Wycliffe's family background, Ruth Rendell's portrayal of Dora Wexford, as well as Wexford's own struggles with family ties and unties is far more appealing -- and, in my view, far more likely. And Madame Maigret si rather like Mrs. Columbo: she seldom makes an appearnace. There's very little rationale for teh spiritless dialogue with the saintly, fleshless, Helen, who's is a lot more obedient and a lot less assertive than the women I know!

    To be honest, until I came across a bio of Burley on the Net, I really thought that the publishing house kept a stable of writers to work up the stories, rather as the American publishers used to do with the Nancy Drew books, or the cowboy series, and publishers probably still do. The quality of the writing in the Wycliffe stories strikes me as 'thin,' and it's certainly inconsistent. And what ever happened to copy editing? The pages are crammed with sentences spliced with commas, which after a time becomes really irritating.

    On your scale, I'd give it a four or perhaps a two. I'll probably read another if my husband brings one from the library and I've nothing else to read in bed, but I wouldn't recommend these books for anything other than that.

    Nice photos on the other blog.


    Classy Broad

  4. Thanks Classy Broad, a really useful comment.

    It's always interesting to have a different perspective. I have to confess I was quite disappointed with Three-toed Pussy (see later review) and there are certainly inconsistencies of character between that and the later ones I've read. I suppose because she is so insubstantial and dated I hadn't thought his wife worthy of a comment. Indeed it's the fact that the books are dated that allowed me to forgive their lack of depth. But I don't seek too much in a cosy crime.
    I'm surprised I missed the unnecessary commas though - I would have expected that to annoy me too.
    I haven't seen the TV series so I can't comment on that.


Hello folks - your comments are always welcome.