RogerBW's Blog

Bones under the Beach Hut, Simon Brett 09 February 2015

2011; twelfth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole Seddon takes over the rental of a beach hut along the shore from Fethering, only for human remains to turn up underneath it.

This is a fairly short book, only around 70,000 words, and sometimes feels a bit sketched-in rather than following Brett's usual style of wallowing in the horribleness of his minor characters. They're here all right, particularly the pettily corrupt local council administrator Kelvin Southwest and the navy-mad retired teacher Reginald Flowers, but we don't get much of either of them: an introduction, another encounter, the revelation of their sin (everyone in a Brett book has to have their own sin, a bit like Ellis Peters), and that's about it. There is some emphasis on odd relationships, and the way they can allow two people who are fairly broken as individuals to have something of a pleasant life together, but this isn't developed, just observed.

A client of Jude's is in need of money as her boyfriend's walked out on her and vanished, which is why Carole gets the hut at all, and some of the best material here teases the reader with the possibility that the missing boyfriend might be the source of the human remains… or the cause of them. The eventual resolution of all the mystery is oddly unsatisfying, relying on confessions that seem to come a little too easily from people who've been keeping life-changing secrets for years only to spill them when prodded the right way.

It does sometimes seem odd that, with experience of eleven previous investigations where Carole and Jude had got to the answer before the police, the police don't take at least a little bit of interest in them when they start on another. A smart and slightly flexible detective inspector could leak them a little information, pick up their theories, do the legwork, and claim the credit for solving the case; instead, as usual, they're frozen out and have to investigate on their own, which I suppose is a precondition of the amateur-sleuth school of mystery.

The book shows some sign of having been written in haste and not properly proofed, for example with repetitions of words like this:

While they had been inside The Crab Inn the cloudless sky of the morning had become overcast with dull clouds and the rain was starting to spit down.

…easy enough to commit by accident, especially if using a word processor, but also easy enough to spot from a read-through.

The strangest omission here, though, is in the relative absence of Jude; she's around, and she prods Carole from time to time, but this is mostly Carole's investigation, with the pair only working together occasionally. One of the things I've enjoyed in this series is the slow development of the relationship between the two, and particularly Carole's gradual approach to something like normal humanity; this book barely touches on the former, and the latter takes retrograde steps, with Carole being casually cruel to a variety of people in a way that she'd largely got away from in previous volumes.

It's still all a bit tired, and I'd recommend that the new reader start with the better, earlier volumes.

Followed by Guns in the Gallery.

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