RogerBW's Blog

The Convivial Codfish, Charlotte MacLeod 14 February 2018

1984 cozy American detective fiction; fifth of MacLeod's novels of Boston Brahmin Sarah Kelling and art investigator Max Bittersohn. A minor theft is nothing to be taken seriously, but a murderous practical joke has more significance… and there's more murder to come.

This book has rather more Max than Sarah, and suffers thereby; they're both interesting characters, but it's when they're both on stage together than things really sparkle. There's the usual background of enjoyable fun-poking at horrible Boston high families, but the investigation is fairly light-weight, with minimal clues and a malefactor caught red-handed rather than accused on the basis of deduction.

"How serious is this affair of his?"

"I honestly can't tell you. All I know is that Ed and his wife have lived in a state of armed truce for years and Ed has been rumored to seek consolation elsewhere. A number of elsewheres, I believe, but generally only one at a time. Ed's not one to stick his neck out beyond reasonable limits."

The main event happens on a train, for proper detective-story effect – a private one, but that does no harm. I am fairly sure that MacLeod has read a certain G. K. Chesterton story (Gur Dhrre Srrg), but she changes things around enough that it feels like inspiration rather than duplication.

"On the whole, Bill does fairly well for himself. He mentioned at the meeting that he'd bought Abigail another Rolls-Royce as a Christmas present."

"To chase the bees in?"

"No, I expect she'll just stick it in the carriage house with the rest of them."

Alas, the murderer's motivation was unconvincing to me, and the method of the theft is just implausible. This is one of those stories where the mystery feels like an afterthought, because the story had to fit into a mystery series, or an excuse, rather than the main business; but there's no other main business to replace it.

Followed by The Plain Old Man.

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Previous in series: The Bilbao Looking Glass | Series: Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn | Next in series: The Plain Old Man

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