Sunday, May 27, 2012

I've gone Blotto for Blotto!

5 out of 5 stars

I have found a new favorite author.  It's obvious Simon Brett has a deep and abiding love for P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie and their ilk, but that hasn't stopped him from taking the staples of the English-country-set cozy mystery and skewered them one by one with a red-hot cricket bat. From the amateur sleuth who's always on-scene and can find the answer to any conundrum just by licking the backside of a dust bunny, in this case Twinks, aka Lady Honoria Lyminster: [regarding two pieces of carpet fibre, one plucked from the victim's shoe, the other a sample from the victim's room] "Both pieces, as you can see, are from the same carpet. It's a Turkish fine-weave, probably manufactured in the workshop of the Hassan brothers in the village of Akgurglu just to the north of Izmir, and almost definitely originally bought from the emporium of their cousin Mustapha Khalid on the Golden Alley of the main Istanbul souk. Not that any of that's important. The important thing is that both samples came from the same carpet." to the bumbling, stumbling, plodding, thick-headed police force that's always being shown up by said amateur sleuth, in this case taking the form of Chief Inspector Trumbull and Sergeant Knatchbull: "Chief Inspector Trumbull had not been at the front of the queue when the intellect was handed out. Indeed, he appeared not to have been in the same county. But that did not prevent him from rising through the ranks of his chosen profession. Indeed, in those days for anyone in that profession to have shown intelligence or originality would have been a positive disqualification. The role of the police was to do a lot of boring legwork and paperwork, to trail up investigatory cul-de-sacs, to be constantly baffled, and dutifully amazed when an amateur sleuth revealed the solution to a murder mystery." In between are the battle-axe of a mother, the Dowager Duchess of Tawcester (pronounced "Taster," everyone knows that): "She was constructed on the lines of a transatlantic steamer and it was comparably difficult to make her change her course once she was under way." as well as various scions and breeders of the ruling class, ridiculous nicknames included, as with Twinks's brother, the Right Honourable Devereux Lyminster, who was known by one and all as Blotto: "His nickname certainly did not derive from his drinking habits. Amongst people of his class it was thought bad form for nicknames to have logical explanations; they were items to be scattered about with random largesse, like small donations to a charity."

The story here is pretty much incidental. The entertainment comes from the characters and Brett's assassination of the genre in which he's writing. By parodying the situations, the characters, the language and lingo, he's creating a pitch-perfect yet exaggerated English-country-set story along the lines of P.G. Wodehouse (most especially Wodehouse's classic Jeeves & Wooster tales), with a pinch of cozy mystery thrown in a la Agatha Christie (reminiscent of the interfering and prescient Miss Marple) though the mystery isn't nearly as mysterious as Christie's. But, again, that doesn't matter. What matters is the experiences you encounter as the story sweeps you up and gallops away, with you hanging on to the tail for dear life. Every time Blotto grows confused about a situation (which is nearly always as "Blotto's thoughts rarely ran deep enough to dampen the soles of his handmade brogues."); every time Twinks comes to his rescue (which is nearly always, with Blotto responding to her brilliance with a "Toad-in-the-hole, Twinks, you are absolutely the lark's larynx."); basically at every harebrained scheme come up by Twinks and gamely put into place by Blotto, you know Brett is skewering the genre and poking fun at the stereotypes, yet he does it so well, with such marvelous turns of phrases and side-splitting, original descriptions, that you don't care--you just keep reading... and laughing your ass off.

This is a book which doesn't require much brain power to enjoy and can be gotten through quickly. (I breezed through it in two days.) The only thing is does require is your willingness to suspend higher thinking for a while and enjoy the ride.

Read May 26-27, 2012
Reviewed May 27, 2012

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