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The Stabbing in the Stables is the seventh novel in the Fethering series of murder mysteries written by English author Simon Brett. The novels are set in the fictional South coast town of Fethering, which is supposed to be 8 miles away from Brighton. The books feature two main characters neighbours Carole Seddon and Jude; they are of a similar age but are very different characters. Carole is more uptight and Jude more open, Jude has a mysterious background and Carole a very traditional retired ex-civil servant. However, they work well together and solve murders which the police don't seem capable of doing.
After the rather average in my opinion hanging in the hotel, Brett returns to form with the Stabbing in the stables. As with all the mysteries they start with one of the two women finding a dead body, this is now stretching to the seventh body and you do have to wonder if the two women are either very unlucky or portents of doom? Anyway this time and for the first time the body is found by both women on a visit to a local stable. The owner of the stables and an ex-eventer called Walter Dalrympil, he was once feted to be a huge international star but a fall ended his sports career and the money which funded their lives rather dried up. His wife Sandra didn't appear all that bothered about his death, but it's soon one apparent she isn't a prime suspect.
The finding of the body of course gives the two women an opportunity to investigate the murder, the police in this book are a rather poor bunch and give them plenty of scope to make discoveries and finally come to a conclusion about who is the murderer.
The book though is fairly sprinkled with the kind of characters which Brett loves to poke fun at, new rich, arrogant rich, posh rich, middle class divorced couples, and for me the best character an Irish healer called Donal. Donal could have been a typecast Irish alcoholic ex-jokey but Brett turns him into a dissident poet and spokesperson for the concept of the comedy Irishman.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the murder plot is well thought out and has a few enjoyable twists and rather than the forced feel of Hanging in the Hotel this feels like the first few novels abound with plenty of acidic wit and acerbic asides.
The story also continues the story of Jude and Carole, in truth the fate of these two middle aged women makes the reader want to go on with the series. The tight and middle class epitome Carole and the light and slightly fey Jude, both expand in this novel and we find out exciting things about the future for both of them. I am looking forward to reading the next novel and the rest of the novels in the series.
There is something about Carole Seddon and her friend Jude that makes them fall over victims of murder on a regular basis. In this case, it is in the stable of an acquaintance of Jude and the victim is the stable owner's husband, Walter Fleet. Fleet was a successful jockey until an accident stopped him in his prime. Bitter at his fall from grace, he has any number of enemies, including his own wife.
It seems that the case is solved when a local vagrant is taken in for questioning. However, he has an alibi and is soon released. At the same time, several cases of horses who have been attacked come to light. Is this related in any way to Walter Fleet's murder? What is a local woman who stables her horses at the Fleets so scared of? Carole and Jude use their personal skills to wheedle information out of the potential suspects, but can they solve the case before more harm is done?
I have now read several books in this series and can honestly say that I am always delighted to get my hands on one that I have not read. All the books are highly entertaining. Simon Brett manages to write with such wit that the fact that Carole and Jude are apparently able to do what the police cannot do is overlooked. I think that he is also improving from book to book - this is the latest in the series and is, I think, the best yet - something that is not easy to do.
Carole is an ex Home Office bod, a divorcee with one son. She does not have much in the way of interpersonal skills and often manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, but she is sharp and tenacious, which makes her ideal at solving riddles. Jude, her next door neighbour and friend, is very different. She is far more relaxed than Carole and is involved in a host of alternative therapies. She is much more capable at persuading people to open up about themselves than Carole is. At the same time, she is very private - she keeps her love affairs very separate from her life in Fethering and Carole doesn't even know her surname. I have become very fond of these two characters as the series has progressed. Initially, I found Carole snippy and irritating, but she has really begun to soften and we do see a much more pleasant side to her in this book. Jude has always been much easier to like.
The writing style is very simple, but entertaining. Simon Brett's wit really comes through in a way that makes it obvious that the book is not to be taken too seriously. As such, it is a very easy read - I read the book in a day, rarely stopping to put it down. Don't be put off by the length of the book - the print is actually quite large, so you will get through it more quickly than you might think. The chapters are also of just the right length that you are tempted to read just one more before you put it down.
The plot is strong - as I mentioned above, I think this is Brett's best yet - and although there are any number of red herrings littered throughout the book, there are not so many that it makes a mockery of the plot. There is a twist at the end that I didn't see coming, although in hindsight, I should have, which added to my enjoyment of the book.
Another thing I liked was that at the end, Brett described what happens to the characters (not Carole and Jude, but those involved in the murder) in the future - for example, one of them has an affair and then meets the man of her dreams when she is in her fifties. This is something that he has not done in previous books, but I really liked the idea that the solving of the mystery didn't mean I didn't find out what happened to other characters after that.
On the whole then, I highly recommend this book. If you like crime fiction and fancy a light read for the summer, this is absolutely perfect. However, if you are expecting something gritty and serious, this probably isn't for you. Personally, I can't wait until the next in the series comes out.
The book is available from play.com for £5.49. Published by Pan Macmillan, it has 400 pages. ISBN: 9780330426978