RogerBW's Blog

The Poisoning in the Pub, Simon Brett 11 April 2014

Tenth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series. Several pubgoers go down with food poisoning, and other events start to make it look like a concerted campaign against the pub. But who's doing it? And why?

One reads the Fethering books less for the mysteries than for the cutting observations about the people Jude and Carole Seddon, two ladies in their fifties, encounter during their unofficial investigations. This latest volume does not disappoint.

The mystery develops smoothly; there's one hard-to-forgive lapse of recognition by our protagonists, and one rather blatant intrusion just before someone gives up a vital piece of information, but Brett plays within the rules. If anything it's disappointingly straightforward; I was expecting at least one more twist than I ended up getting.

As for the people, the guest stars here are two relatively minor characters: the dim ex-wife of the pub landlord, and a neighbourhood busybody who while stereotyped even in his secrets is still painted effectively. The fading comedian Dan Poke is also well observed.

Brett's hand is less sure when dealing with several of the occupants of a sheltered housing block: one damaged from oxygen deprivation at birth, one with trisomy 21, and one compulsive fantasist. The former two are unrelentingly Nice no matter the provocation, in a way that seems to me unrealistic; the latter is unrelentingly Nasty, but ends up dragging the tone of his scenes all over the place, from threat to comic relief to pathos.

As for the protagonists, this is the first book to feel thoroughly like a series entry. There's some very minor character development for Carole, but I'm sure that if I'd skipped this book I could go into the next one without feeling that I'd missed something. The slow development of the friendship between Jude and Carole has been one of the pleasures of this series, and alas there's very little of it here.

It's starting to feel a bit tired, but Brett may yet pull the series back to form.

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