RogerBW's Blog

Mrs Pargeter's Point of Honour, Simon Brett 01 February 2019

1998 mystery; sixth in Brett's Mrs Pargeter series (amateur sleuthing). The late Mr Pargeter was a criminal mastermind, though his wife "knew nothing about that"; now the dying widow of a thief who worked for him wants to restore all her stolen paintings to their rightful owners, and of course Mrs Pargeter agrees to help.

Well, Brett finally did it: here's a book with no murdering in it at all, and barely anything for Mrs Pargeter to detect. Instead it's much more along the lines of a caper story, as she and her late husband's associates plot and execute the anti-crime of smuggling the paintings back to where they should be, while dealing with rival crooks, a mole in their organisation, and two bungling policemen.

Almost everyone here is a comic character of the "look at the silly man" school, and it was during a sequence involving a fake television programme that I finally realised (after 22 books) just what it is that makes me faintly uncomfortable about Brett's writing: he's like that bitchy friend who always has something cruel and amusing to say about people one doesn't like, but whom one always suspects may be just as cruel and amusing about oneself to other people. Yes, sure, aren't television watchers all very stupid, ho ho ho, but do I really believe that Brett wouldn't be just as unpleasant about detective story readers to his mates at the BBC? No, no I don't.

He nodded complacently. 'No problem, Mrs Pargeter. I've videoed all four of my mum's weddings.'

The entire point of the series has been that Mrs Pargeter herself could always pretend that there was no crime going on, that these people with names like "Hedgeclipper" Clinton and "Concrete" Jacket were simply rough diamonds to whom the late Mr Pargeter had been very generous. It's a bit of a balancing act but it works reasonably well. But here, Mrs Pargeter engages in unabashed criminality while keeping up the façade of not knowing what's happening – and at the same time continues to damn all hypocrites.

The plot doesn't really hold together either, with all the criminal opposition ending up fitted up for major crimes that they had nothing to do with; yes, yes, hacking into the police computer, but one can't help feeling that the utter lack of actual evidence might be considered a slight impediment when it came to trial.

It doesn't help that the writing is pedestrian in the extreme, and I found myself finishing Brett's sentences just by thinking of what would be the most obvious cliché and then realising that it was what he'd written – not to mention the repeated phrases like "the full beam of her violet-blue eyes" which, as they did for Homer, simply serve to bulk up the word count. It's pap, and Brett did at least have the grace to realise it and end the series here. (There's no especial conclusion, as each of these books is complete in itself, but certainly there's nothing important left hanging.)

Followed seventeen years later by Mrs Pargeter's Principle, but it's one of my truisms that when a writer returns to a series after a gap of more than a decade it's very rarely any good, and I don't like these enough to find out whether they're an exception.

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