* Prices may differ from that shown
The books written by Simon Brett is a guilty pleasure of mine, he is an author who through his murder mystery novel pokes fun at the English middle classes, we have the Charles Parris, Mrs. Pargeter and Fethering mystery all take delight in mocking the staid behaviour of the English middle classes. The Fethering mysteries have fast become my favourite end of the night reading material because they are less acidic than the earlier Parris and Pargeter novels but are actually more fun to read.
The Fethering mysteries are murder mysteries set in the fictional south coast town of Fethering which is approximately 8 miles away from Brighton. This isn't part of the world I know well being an east coast boy but the general feel isn't too dissimilar to the more upper crust North East coastal towns like Staithes or Robin Hood Bay certainly not the uncouthness of Brighton or Scarborough. The town has a nice middle class feel but has enough of the upper class and working class to give the inhabitants plenty of rope to hang themselves metaphorically speaking of course. Into this world comes Carole Sneddon who is a divorcee in her 50's, a bit prickly and rather staid in her views and beliefs and her neighbour the more outgoing Jude (no surname as yet). In the first novel, Carole finds a dead body on the beach and through the investigation the two become friends despite being complete opposites.
The Torso in the Town is the third in the series and the novel follows now a well established path, there is a dead body found in a house in the nearby town of Farnborough. The body is found in a house recently bought by the Saxby's and it appears the body has been there for some time casting suspicion on the previous owners of the house. The previous owners all have suspicious backgrounds in that they are divorcees, alcoholics, or even more suspiciously new age artists. Jude happened to be at a dinner party at the house when the body was found and this gives the pair an entry into the story.
The story in truth isn't too far away from the Mrs. Presumed Dead novel featuring Mrs Pargeter written by Brett ten years previously. Clearly the body is a former owner of the house and of course the murderer is presumed to be likewise but there are plenty of recent owners and all have ex wife and husbands who have left town over the last few years.
The storyline is enjoyable but not all that challenging, however, the great pleasure in reading the story is the use of the setting to give the authors views on English life. In this novel, he exposes the contradictory approach most English people have over the dislike for being gossiped about but in the same breathe gossiping endlessly about others. Brett attacks the sniping matriarch, the pub culture and the love of prying which some in the middle classes seem to adore. Here we are given a fairly limited set of suspects, and a set of characters who don't really know them but will without any evidence make up gossip and damn them without batting an eye-lid.
I loved the novel and at 320 pages isn't too long or too short but as with all the best stories is just the right length. This is classic Brett and we warm towards the two women in question even the uptight Carole, indeed the use of the socially inept Carole lifts this series of novels above the Parris and Pargeter novels, giving the stories a viewpoint from the exact people the author is satirising. That's inspired and clever and makes for a great read.
I've read and reviewed a couple of books by Simon Brett now. What I like about them is that they are consistent; I know from the start that I'm not reading a great work of literature, but that I will have an enjoyable, light-hearted read. I've recently had to do a lot of overtime at work and so something complicated was the last thing I wanted, making this the perfect choice. This book is one of the Fethering Mysteries, although Simon Brett has written two other series of detective books, as well as a radio show.
Carole and Jude, both in their early 50s, are neighbours in the seaside town of Fethering. They have a Miss Marple-like habit of falling over dead bodies and then working out who the murderer was. In this case, the body was found in a box in the corner of a cellar into which some friends of Jude had just moved. The body, or torso, because the arms and legs had been chopped up, had obviously been there for quite some time before being discovered.
A few days after the gruesome discovery, the police have a name for the murdered woman - an aristocratic lady called Virginia Hargreaves who married a local man, Roddy Hargreaves, who said that she had left him three years before. But was Roddy the murderer? Virginia Hargreaves had had a number of affairs with local men before her death and anyone of them could be the suspect. Carole and Jude set out to discover the truth before more murders are committed.
Although terribly one dimensional as characters, I do really like the interaction between Carole and Jude. Carole, forced to take early retirement from the Home Office, is a cold woman, shy of commitment and has very few friends. Jude, on the other hand, is the opposite; she is very open and friendly and finds Carole's odd habits amusing, although seems reluctant to give away much about her past. The two do get on well though and Jude manages to pull Carole out of her shell enough to solve whatever crime they are working on. I was slightly disappointed to find that Carole had begun a relationship with the local pub landlord, Ted Crisp, but that by the beginning of the book, the relationship was over. They do eventually make up, but I would have enjoyed seeing what Carole was like with a man.
The other characters are little more than caricatures of the people of Middle England. The women are generally snobby busybodies who hide their own faults, but are more than happy to talk about the faults of others. The men seem to spend most of their time hiding from their wives and drinking away their sorrows in pubs. Nearly all of the characters have a predilection for telling their life stories to Carole and Jude, who conveniently manage to pull out the bits that are relevant to their investigations. However, realistic or not, the author gives us just enough information to provide characters that complement the light-hearted nature of the book.
The plot kept me quite amused. There are plenty of suspects and the clues are fed to us slowly throughout the book, so it never reaches a point where it gets boring. The writing style is very simple and reminds me very much of another author, M C Beaton (a woman), who writes the Hamish McBeth and Agatha Raisin series. I am quite impressed that a book written by a man should have two female main characters. In fact, his writing style is quite feminine; if I didn't know he was male, I would have presumed the author was female. I think it is the way that he manages to pick up on small things that perhaps traditionally are classed as being the sort of things that only women would notice.
The only real criticism I have is that the ending is a little disappointing. The plot is built up well throughout the book, only to droop a little towards the end. It didn't take too much away from my enjoyment of the book - I wasn't expecting a Stephen King-style ending - but I did feel a bit like it had been finished in a hurry without being thought out very well.
On the whole, I think anyone that likes crime fiction and feels like a slightly lighter read than usual will enjoy this. Although it isn't laugh-out loud funny, there is a nice touch of humour about the writing that always adds to my enjoyment of Simon Brett's books. I would recommend borrowing from a library rather than buying, but I do recommend reading it.
The book is available from play.com for £5.49. Published by Pan Macmillan, it has 320 pages. ISBN: 9780330486552
Amateur sleuths Jude and Carole take on their third case when a terrible discovery is made in the cellar of a grand old house. Grant and Kim Roxby had hoped that their first dinner party at Pelling House would make an impression with their new neighbours. And the next day, it's certainly the talk of the town of Fedborough. For their guests - including the couple's old friend Jude - had been enjoying a pleasant meal before they were rudely interrupted by a gruesome discovery. A human torso is hidden in the cellar. Jude races home to Fethering and her friend Carole with the news. And soon the pair are back in Fedborough, questioning the locals. But they can't help but wonder why a town so notoriously distrustful of outsiders is proving so terribly amenable to their enquiries.