RogerBW's Blog

The Hanging in the Hotel, Simon Brett 28 August 2016

2004 mystery; fifth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude is helping out at the Hopwicke Country House Hotel, but the morning after a boozy meeting of the Pillars of Sussex, an organisation of local businessmen, one of them doesn't come down to breakfast… because he's hanging from a beam of his four-poster bed. Obviously a suicide…

…or obviously not, but proving it will be hard work, especially when the Pillars of Sussex close ranks to disassociate themselves from the victim. Everybody's far too willing to talk to Carole and Jude, as usual, but a key player appears for the first time three-quarters of the way through the book, which doesn't help matters.

Most of the investigation is a trudge through local businesses, and Brett's usual cast of horrible people. Everyone has something to hide, of course, and it usually reinforces how ghastly they are.

As in The Torso in the Town, the ultimate villain goes unpunished, which again seems to be a violation of the principles of murder mysteries: the detectives find themselves stymied and essentially give up and go home. But they do that seemingly because there are only a few pages left; if it were half-way through the book they'd go after some alternative source of information, and for their behaviour to be so blatantly affected by a non-diegetic element breaks my suspension of disbelief.

But in this book, the mystery is the bread on which the pâté of human drama is spread: what are these people's secrets, and how do they react as things come out? Also, this marks a significant achievement in the process of Carole's transformation into a human being, as she finds herself become able to talk with her son and his fiancée in a way she certainly wouldn't have been when the series started. (However, I think Brett realised that without having Carole as a pompous prig he loses the contrast she strikes against free-spirited Jude, so her progress from this point on is much slower and sometimes even reversed.)

Followed by The Witness at the Wedding.

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