Friday, July 6, 2012

What I want to know is, why hasn't the BBC turned any of Brett's novels into a TV series?

4 out of 5 stars

This is one of those charming cozy mysteries, in the vein of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, portraying a quaint, quirky English village, of the type which probably only exists in fiction as it's so quaint and so quirky as to be unreal, and its quaint, quirky inhabitants. (And, yes, I'm going to use those two 'q' words throughout this review because I like them and they work so well.) It's the kind of book you read not so much for the mystery, which can be quite satisfying in its own way, as for the spectacle of watching the slightly less quaint and quirky sleuth or sleuths bumble, stumble, and fumble their way to a solution.

Carole Seddon has just moved to the seaside town of Fethering, a village which prides itself on its smug respectability and its residents ability to know exactly where they belong and how to behave properly within the confines of this “retirement” village. Riff-raff is confined to the undesirable council estates and even then, only within limits. Staid, reserved, uptight Carole fits in perfectly. She even has the requisite dog, a Labrador named Gulliver, whom she takes on regularly scheduled walks along the beach. Its on one of these walks that she discovers a body. Rather than becoming hysterical about the situation, she returns home and gives Gulliver a bath (as he's managed to roll in something rather nasty and pungent in a pile of seaweed, after having thoroughly soaked himself while trying to command the waves). After mopping up his dog prints from the kitchen floor, it seems only sensible to Carole that she clean the rest of the room, resulting in nearly two hours passing between her discovering the body and placing a phone call to the police notifying them of said body. Which explains why, when a Detective Inspector and WPC (Woman police constable) show up at her cottage, she's treated with condescension and pity. Because there's no body to be found.

Despite her better instincts, Carole involves her new neighbor, Jude, in the mystery. Jude, who's free-spirited ways stand in stark contrast to Carole's rigidity (and who constantly frustrates Carole with her aversion to giving out personal information, even down to her surname; seriously, Carole spends the entire book trying to find a way to get Jude to say her last name, but it never happens), seems an odd choice for a partner, but soon the two find themselves friends and, more importantly, equally determined to solve the mystery of the disappearing body. As neither of them have even been detectives, it takes them a while to figure out how to begin, but eventually the two find themselves sifting through the dark recesses of Fethering life and finding out that even nice, quite retirement villages hide dangerous secrets.

It takes a while to warm up to the book. Carole is so tightly wound, to put it vulgarly, if you shoved a piece of coal up her bum, she'd pass a diamond. However, once Jude is introduced, Carole finds that not only is loosening up not a crime, it can be actually quite pleasurable, and as the story progresses, Carole becomes more human thanks to Jude's influence. The character I feel the most for, though, is Gulliver; since Carole got him as a sort of check-list purchase (Cottage? Check. Raincoat and gumboots? Check. Dog to complete one's retired life? Check.) she doesn't particularly interact with him. In fact, the way Brett describes the absolute joy in Gulliver as Jude splashes around in the waves with him is almost heart breaking. The remaining characters are quaint and quirky enough to add color without becoming caricatures; it's easy to picture the proud yet obviously sad Vice-Commodore, the snobbish to the point of fascism mother-daughter duo of Winnie Norton and Barbara Turnbull, or hear the tired, retreaded jokes from the washed-up comic-turned-barkeep Ted.

As I mentioned above, the mystery is almost incidental. It's entertaining in and of itself, even if I did manage to figure out the set-up a third of the way in and saw what was coming from a mile away. (The only shock came when the identity of the culprit's partner was revealed—now that I was not expecting!) But what really makes the mystery intriguing and brings it life is watching how the characters deal with events and go about solving the crime, especially in this story/series. With two sleuths on the case, invariably they each discover important pieces of the puzzle along the way, but can't discuss their findings with one another properly until it's too late. Or nearly too late—after all, we want Jude and Carole to live another day, so they may solve yet another mystery in a way which will disrupt the rigid sensibilities of the residents of Fethering. Not to mention allow Carole to perchance discover what the hell Jude's last name is!

Read June 28-July 2, 2012
Reviewed July 5, 2012

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