RogerBW's Blog

The Strangling on the Stage, Simon Brett 25 May 2016

2014; fifteenth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing in small-town Sussex). After a rehearsal for a village-hall production of The Devil's Disciple, the lead is found strangled on the "absolutely safe" gallows.

The previous book had real tennis as an obsession, and this time it's the turn of amateur dramatics. As painted here, it's another world full of small people trying to get away from the tragedies of their conventional lives; the Smalting Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (and yes, the inevitable "saddoes" is used repeatedly) is stuffed with the failed and inadequate, from the widowed Queen Bee who runs the community through controlling access to her weekly "drinkies things" (though what benefit anyone might feel from attending them remains a mystery) and always gets the lead role, to the inadequate "engineer" who builds the sets, and our heroines Carole and Jude have to dodge fast to avoid being hit by clashing egoes.

As last time, this is much more Jude's book than Carole's; Carole had been moving along an obvious but enjoyable arc from prickly "proper" person to someone a bit more relaxed and open to new experience, but here she's rather more closed up again, having to be persuaded and cozened and flattered into a role with SADOS even after the murder has happened and she's desperate to investigate it. I get the feeling that Brett has lost interest in her character progression and settled into a comfortable rut, placing her as the butt of jokes rather than as a co-protagonist. Even Jude doesn't seem to like her much any more.

It's possible to spot the villain by a simple narrative analysis of the possible suspects, but there's very little diegetic evidence pointing to that person, and the eventual motive didn't convince me: it's not quite "a loony did it" but it definitely throws questions of motivation out of the window. The ending is especially unsatisfactory.

There are some distinctly problematic moments, such as when Jude extracts information about a hospital patient without any status with which to do so, engages in (reiki-like) healing without that patient's consent, and then pumps her for information.

Not a particularly good entry in the series, and I think that Brett has lost the animating spark for these characters, perhaps through unwillingness to let them grow and change. Followed by The Tomb in Turkey.

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