The skeletons of two small children have been discovered in the tiny village of Ashmead, and a newspaper report of the find has awakened a vague memory in the mind of architect John Morton, who, as a young child, had had lived in Ashmead. He recalled that he had once scaled a wall met two "ethereal" children, a boy and a girl; they were barefoot, dressed strangely, and seemed to be performing some sort of task. His memory of the event was hazy; he wasn't sure that it had actually happened, and he certainly didn't know if it was related to the skeletons. Still, instinct told him that this event in the past and the sad discovery were linked. Eventually he tells his story to the police.
The children (it happened) were buried with the type of strange clothing John had remembered. Forensic tests indicate they were buried over twenty years ago, about the time of John's memory, and there was strong evidence that the children were local. No record, however was found of any missing children reported at that time and the townspeople had no recollection of these children.
Who were the children, where did they come from, how had they died, and why were they buried in an unmarked location? Detective-Sergeant Alan Derwent had no answers but he strongly suspected someone in the village knew the story behind the dead children. Derwent has been assigned this case by default: he was new to the district, his supervisor was on holiday, and the only other person in his small department was out sick. Derwent decided to check into John's story and discovered it likely to be true; John had seen the children that no one in the town could remember shortly before their deaths.
The wall that John had climbed over in his memory led to an old estate called Maulden, owned by the Cawdrey family. The surviving members of the family included the master of the house and his two younger twin siblings; the only other person occupying the estate was a long-time housekeeper. The twins were about the same age as the dead children would have been, and one of the twins -- Ronald -- was mentally deficient. The gravesite, it was discovered, had been within the grounds of Maulden until a recnt road had cut across the property.
Village and family secrets seemed to be entwined with the case. Three people are attacked and a small girl goes missing before the villagers realize that the decades-old bodies have brought terror with them.
A GRAVE MATTER is an engaging book. The solution to the puzzle is handed out slowly with enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing. John Morton and Alec Derwent are an interesting combination, and the author, L. P. Davies, has drawn a fascinating glimpse of small village life in the late 1960s.
Lionel Purnell Davies (1914-1988), wrote 23 mystery and science fiction novels -- many with a touch of horror. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
For more forgotten books, go to pattinase.blogspot.com where you'll find three great reviews and a number of links to some great books.