RogerBW's Blog

The Grub-and-Stakers Spin a Yarn, Charlotte MacLeod 15 May 2019

1990, cosy American detective fiction; fourth of MacLeod's novels (as "Alisa Craig") of Dittany Henbit and the Lobelia Falls Grub-and-Stakers Gardening & Roving Club. Industrial espionage comes to town, and the local mincemeat magnate is under attack.

This is barely a story; it's much more a series of amusing incidents, with the barest thread of plot stringing them together. Dittany is pregnant with twins, and barely present in the story; it's her husband Osbert, writer of westerns and local deputy, who gets to do the actual working out of what's going on.

I think the main problem is one of tone: MacLeod invites the reader to take it all seriously, trying to generate sympathy with the victims of bereavement and murder, but at the same time has spies who dress up like old-time gangsters, a artist in kitsch filling her lawn with ranks of plastic flamingoes, and the MacGuffin that is a secret family mincemeat recipe. This sort of dissonance is something she's done before, of course, but for me the humour here drifts into the grotesque, while killing off the sense of escapism that usually comes from reading MacLeod's books.

At the same time it's very cursory; the solution to the mystery will be entirely obvious the moment a particular character shows up, and for all the characters don't know they're in a detective story one of the jobs of the author is to make the answer a little less blatantly based on the shape of the thing (MacLeod is usually reluctant to make recurring characters turn out to be villainous, and we meet very few other candidates).

I've said before that I read these largely as a sort of mental reset switch after a book with a strong flavour, but this one didn't do a great job; if it were the first book of MacLeod's I'd read I wouldn't go looking for another. Followed by The Grub-and-Stakers House a Haunt.

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Previous in series: The Grub-and-Stakers Pinch a Poke | Series: Dittany Henbit Monk | Next in series: The Grub-and-Stakers House a Haunt

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