Mrs, Presumed dead is the second novel to feature Mrs. Pargeter written by English author Simon Brett. The Mrs Pargeter series are all set in the late eighties/early nineties and feature a kind of spicy Mrs Marple who solves crimes as she goes about her business. There is a huge amount of dry comedy and plenty of subtle social commentary on the English middle class.
Mrs (Melita) Pargeter is a widower in her late sixties, the now deceased Mr Pargeter was a kind of criminal king pin but one who believed in getting the job done through intelligence and guile rather than brute force and violence. Mrs Pargeter mourns her now deceased husband but believes that he would want her to live a full life so she has retired to rather select places and sets out to live out her life in comfort and enjoyment. Unfortunately she keeps running into mysteries and so sets out to solve the crimes before the police to do it she uses the contacts built up by her husband through his life.
We first met Mrs Pargeter at the seaside in A nice class of corpse but she had decided to move on after the events in the book and so in this second book she has relocated to an affluent neighbourhood called Smithy loam. Smithy loam has 6 houses, they all have rich well of husbands and stay at home wives. At the start of the book we find out that the women Mrs Pargeter is buying her house from is murdered but of course the identity of the killer is kept vague.
As I said the book is set in a fictional well off neighbourhood called Smithy loam which is in a not named town somewhere in Southern England, presumably Surrey or Kent. The husbands all have well paid jobs away from the town but where is rather vague but the implication is well padded city jobs funding affluent decadent lives but with the affluence for the husbands comes a kind of isolation for the wives. Smithy loam has five other houses, in which we never meet the men of the neighbourhood but we find out plenty about the wives, they all have problems down to isolation from their husbands and a need to appear more affluent than the other houses. This desperate drive to be the best forces differences between the women rather than friendship, this apparent contradiction is explored with rather sarcastic wit by Brett the author who pokes fun at the British aloofness and social ineptitudes.
So when Mrs Pargeter tries to contact the previous owners because her central heating isn't working she finds that they have given her a false address and a dead phone number. She sons is on the scent for the couple and soon discovers that on the night of the move out the house, the women (Theresa) had visited each house and had a final goodbye with each women of the household. Soon the disappearance becomes a murder and Mrs Pargeter calls on the services of her husband's old friends and starts to put together the truth about the move and who had murdered Theresa.
So we are soon immersed in a setting of constant surveillance, dislike and distrust of extreme wealth yet no real quality of life beyond consumerism and avarice. The details of a former neighbour being murdered raises the net curtains for a while but natural reticence soon kicks. Brett pokes more and more fun at the inhabitants and puts in little side stories about objections over the opening of an Indian restaurant but the acceptance of the French restaurant next door.
I enjoyed the book and in truth the identity isn't too hard to work but the real pleasure is the examination of middle England and all the neurosis we carry with us. This is a short book at only 188 pages and I read the book in a couple of sittings.