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Peter 'Mad Max' Maxwell, head of sixth form at the local high school, is the bane of DCI Henry Hall's existence. Maxwell is about to upset him even more, when he and a local photographer find the body of a dead woman on the beach. When another body is found a few days later, links are made between the two deaths. Yet there is no obvious suspect - at least not one that doesn't have an alibi. Can Maxwell and his partner, DS Jacquie Carpenter, solve the mystery before more people die? And will Henry Hall let him investigate in peace?
I enjoy many types of crime fiction, and although I generally prefer it to be dark and gritty, I don't mind the occasional light-hearted tome to take my mind off things. This book definitely of the light-hearted variety. I started reading with some trepidation because the humour seemed somewhat corny, but as I became accustomed to the way of writing, I began to enjoy myself. The turning point came with the following section, where Max is talking to what the reader initially presumes is a student: '"Jones! Take that stupid hood off. Stand up straight. Don't run. And why aren't you teaching Nine Zed?" He tutted. Maths teachers might be hard to find, but really! There surely was a limit.' It might be silly, but it put a smile on my face and I thought about it for some time after finishing the book.
I was dubious about the idea of a local school teacher turning private detective extraordinaire. But stranger things have happened - little old ladies seem to solve mysteries right left and centre after all. With a bit of humour and the suspense of disbelief, Mad Max makes quite a sensible detective. As head of the sixth form, he knows a lot of people and their families, which stands him in good stead when wanting to find out about people's backgrounds. Of course, his ability to out-do the police at virtually every turn isn't very realistic, but I think the author does manage to pull it off without it seeming too silly. The fact that his partner is a police sergeant helps here. It is quite obvious that the author, M J Trow, is a school teacher himself - the way that he writes about school life flows very well and reminded me of my schooldays!
Although I enjoyed the story, there are flaws in the plot. For example, I have to admit that I didn't fully understand the 'key' to the deaths. Max works it out - it is something to do with ambigrams and divining rods (I'm not giving too much of the plot away there, honestly), but either it isn't very well explained or I'm a bit stupid, because it didn't completely make sense to me. Although it didn't ruin the plot, I did feel as if the author was struggling to find an original way to finish off the book, and this convoluted explanation was the best that he could come up with.
The book is written very well, as one would expect from a high school teacher! The chapters are pleasantly short and sweet - Trow definitely has the ability to write succinctly, which is great, because I didn't feel that I was wasting my time with unnecessary description. There is, of course, a place for descriptive prose in literature, I just don't feel that it would have been relevant in this book.
On the whole, I enjoyed this book. It wasn't so gripping that I stayed up all night to find out how it was going to end, but it was an easy, fun read. I won't be rushing out to buy more in the series (this is the thirteenth), but I will probably look out for more books in my local library. There is always a place on my reading list for an author who makes me laugh.
If you enjoy this book, you will probably also like any of Simon Brett's crime fiction, particularly the Fethering Mysteries.
Published by Allison and Busby, the book is available from play.com for £14.99 (the paperback version is not yet available). ISBN: 9780749080440
This review was previously published by me on thebookbag.co.uk.