Friday, April 08, 2005

Everybody's Girl by Robert Barnard

“Everybody’s Girl” by Robert Barnard, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May 2005

Everyone has always loved Ruth Lowton, or so it seems.

Ruth is away at her first year in college, and her parents are worried. Her letters indicate that she is unhappy, not fitting in at college. The latest letter even hints at suicide. Her father drives to Leeds, where she attends college, while her mother stays at home in case she calls.

Meanwhile we meet the couple across the street, two people in an unhappy marriage of long standing. They too love Ruthie, each in their own way.

We also meet Ruthie’s high school history teacher, whom Ruthie tended to dominate. And there is a boy at school, a melancholy sort. Ruthie seemed quite attached to him. He certainly thought the world of her. There is also the guy across the hall at her flat who didn’t like her at all.

When her father reaches Leeds and begins looking for her, the police are fishing her body out of a river. Her father witnesses this and is devastated, thinking she has committed suicide as she hinted at in her letter. The police, on the other hand, know it to be murder. The back of her head is caved in.

As the police investigate, talking to more and more people who knew Ruthie, a very different personality from the loving, caring Ruthie comes out. Ruthie was a master manipulator, had been from an early age. Only those people she manipulated couldn’t see it. But there was one person among her intimates that knew about her manipulation and could stand it no longer. Mr. Barnard does an excellent job drawing her character through the recollections of the people who knew her.

This story is a textbook police procedural. We follow the detectives assigned to the case as they question people and put together a picture of Ruthie and her life. There isn’t a lot of emotional content in the story. You don’t spend enough time with any of the characters to become attached to them, but that is pretty typical of this type of story. The process is the star.

In short, a good story.