RogerBW's Blog

Mrs, Presumed Dead, Simon Brett 04 November 2017

1988 mystery; second in Brett's Mrs Pargeter series (amateur sleuthing). Mrs Pargeter moves into one of a small cluster of new houses, but it seems that the previous occupant may have come to a bad end.

This is entirely frothy. Some of Brett's later books (in the Fethering Mysteries series) have had reasonably complex plots; this tries, but rather than giving the reader a puzzle to get his teeth into it just ends up providing a bunch of disconnected incidents, most of which are meaningless, and all of which are open to multiple interpretations. In the first book of the series, it was pretty obvious who must be responsible; in this one, anyone who had certain bits of information could have dunnit, and there's no way of working out who those people are rather than who they might be.

The people are somewhat stereotyped, but reasonably well-observed; they all have their own secrets and the beginnings of character arcs, though most of them reach no resolution. The writing is generally pleasing; Brett is rarely sloppy.

The late Mr Pargeter had left her well provided for in many ways, and each piece of furniture was like a little cassette of memory, which brought back vividly the circumstances of its purchase (or, when that was not the appropriate word, of its arrival in their marital home).

One does however have to wonder why Mrs Pargeter, a vivacious widow in her sixties who casually dresses in mink and hires limousines, and whose address-book is full of current and former criminals who will fall over themselves to do her favours because her husband was such a good blokeā€¦ should choose to move into a nest of yuppies. And why doesn't she seem to have any friends?

Brett's heart is clearly in the right place, and the obvious loony is dismissed as the murderer in a metafictional way:

But Mrs Pargeter didn't like that conclusion. For a start, she had a strong prejudice against murders committed by people who were mad. She had always disliked them in crime fiction and didn't care for them much in real life. Madness was so vague, so woolly. Any motivation and logic could be ascribed to someone who was mad. At the end of a crime book in which a madman dunnit, Mrs Pargeter always felt cheated and annoyed.

Yes, all right, I've written similar things myself (and so of course did Sayers); it's an unfair puzzle. But so I'm afraid is this one, at least to my way of thinking. Still, Brett can describe someone as being "sinisterly ungrammatical", and that's why I forgive him the rest, and will probably continue with the series; they aren't being as waspish as the later Fethering books, or as revelling in the intrinsic humour of laughing at old people as the one Charles Paris I've read. Very light-weight but still enjoyable. Followed by Mrs Pargeter's Package.

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