RogerBW's Blog

The Torso in the Town, Simon Brett 20 August 2016

2002 mystery; third in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). The couple who've just moved into the Big House in Fedborough, inland up the river from Fethering, throw a dinner party to try to get into the local social scene… which is somewhat spoiled when a limbless body is discovered in the cellar.

So clearly it's one of the previous owners of the house who dunnit, but it's not obvious at first just who the victim is, never mind the murderer. The deduction, while interestingly twisty, is not the principal concern; the real point of this book is to make snippy comments about horrible people, most of which is done through the medium of the Fedborough Festival, with its house-based art shows. Brett sticks his knife repeatedly into artistic pretensions and moral failings, a theme to which he returns later in the series.

As before, all sorts of people are far too willing to spill their intimate secrets to strangers, a recurrent structural problem in this series. It's hard to say how it might be solved, really; one of the protagonists is sympathetic and can inspire confidences, fair enough, but the other is not, and while she occasionally puts on a Home Office manner to impersonate minor officialdom, mostly people just seem to talk to her for no reason. And our heroes don't do anything else, like breaking into places to find evidence, or shadowing people, or looking through public records; they just talk.

This is the third book in a row to reach its climax with one of the pair captured and threatened by the killer. On the other hand, there is some welcome character development for Carole.

I also have trouble with the idea that a corpse can lie for three years in a cardboard box, which is rotting around it, and nobody ever detects any odour. Vg'f riraghnyyl rkcynvarq gung gur obql jnf fzbxrq gb cerirag vzzrqvngr qrpnl, ohg nalbar jub'f xrcg ovygbat sbe gbb ybat jvyy xabj gung vg qbrf riraghnyyl ebg, rfcrpvnyyl va jrg pbaqvgvbaf.

The real problem, though, is that while the crime is solved, the murderer isn't brought to justice, and as far as the world is concerned the wrong person gets the blame (though that person is at least dead). Insofar as there are required elements to a detective story, the right person being caught is pretty high on the list, and Brett didn't convince me at all of the morality of this ending.

Followed by Murder in the Museum.

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