RogerBW's Blog

Mrs Pargeter's Pound of Flesh, Simon Brett 29 April 2018

1992 mystery; fourth in Brett's Mrs Pargeter series (amateur sleuthing). Mrs Pargeter keeps an old friend company at a visit to a health spa, but Bad Things are going on there.

As so often with Brett, the plot is by the numbers: a particular Bad Person is mentioned but doesn't seem to be among the cast. Well, obviously he is going to be found among the cast. Whom could he be? There's only one candidate. What he's apparently up to seems rather bizarre, but everything does eventually more or less make sense.

The detective plot is mostly a framework on which to hang the other things: a series of rants against the slimming industry (not badly done, though you'd think from this that nobody ever had any legitimate reason to lose weight) as well as a few other targets, and the repetitive process by which Mrs Pargeter knows an old friend of her late husband's who has just the skills she needs to deploy, and who's happy to drop everything in order to use them on her behalf. "When I think of everything your late husband did for me" is a phrase used several times here, so I assume the repetition is deliberate. The joke of the series is that Mrs Pargeter's husband was very obviously a master criminal, but that this is never quite admitted in the narrative; it's not much of a joke to sustain a series on, particularly when Mrs Pargeter keeps accidentally falling over crimes in the context of her ordinary life.

The difficulty of this is that she doesn't end up doing a great deal of detection in her own right; she puts a few things together, but most of the work is done by other people. As in the previous book she ends up in a potentially lethal situation and gets out of it by no virtue of her own. I do like my protagonists to do things.

So I was never particularly absorbed by this book. When someone was told "you were used as the perfect front — and stool-pigeon in case things went wrong" my reaction was "hang on, isn't a stool-pigeon a grass, a snitch, a squealer, an informer? Not a patsy or sacrificial lamb?" If I'd been carried along by the story, I'd have forgotten that infelicity by the time it came to write this review.

It's OK. It doesn't get anything else particularly wrong. But it's not good. Followed by Mrs Pargeter's Plot.

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