RogerBW's Blog

A Pint of Murder, Charlotte MacLeod 14 March 2015

1980, cosy American detective fiction; first of MacLeod's novels (as "Alisa Craig") of Madoc and Janet Rhys. In a small Canadian town, the local old biddy has died of eating her own contaminated preserves. But was she really that careless?

Well, no, of course not. Her neighbour Janet Wadman, visiting her brother to recover from appendicitis and a broken heart, reports her suspicions to the local doctor; then he ends up dead too. And then a house burns down. But who is the criminal: the town's miser, who insists on being given some old patent that nobody else knows about? His son, who's pining for the doctor's daughter? The hired girl who listens at keyholes and is no better than she should be?

All this takes a certain amount of time to unfold, and the start's quite slow, not helped by giving us lots of people to keep track of (and while their relationships are mentioned their ages are often a bit unclear). Eventually (nearly half-way through the book), a plain-clothes Mountie is called in, though his cover doesn't last long. Madoc Rhys does his best to untangle ancient family enmities and solve the puzzle before someone else dies.

As with Rest You Merry, there's a certain amount of glorying in the horribleness of people, whether or not they turn out to be murderers. The doctor's wife is the self-elected social queen of the town, obsessed with appearance, so it doesn't help that her daughter made an unwise young marriage and is back in town with an eleven-year-old son and no husband. Even the town marshal and the local undertaker, while apparently on the side of right, need to live in the place once this is all over, and can't be ready to throw around accusations until they can back them up.

The mystery itself is decently handled: a great big obvious clue is given very nearly at the beginning, with flashing lights and signs proclaiming that CLUE SEASON has begun, and it's then almost entirely neglected until the end. Everyone's ready to think the worst of everyone else, and often they're right.

As one can tell from the series title, at least in later printings, a romance is also a feature (S. S. van Dine would presumably despise it). While we get that almost entirely from Madoc's side, and it mostly consists of his thinking Janet's wonderful but not doing anything about it because he's on duty, it's an unusually convincing one; these are both real, complicated and unglamorous people who might reasonably end up taking an interest in each other.

This is another for my large pile of books that aren't exceptional, but are competently done, and that I find enjoyable.

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See also:
Rest You Merry, Charlotte MacLeod

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