RogerBW's Blog

The Odd Job, Charlotte MacLeod 12 December 2019

1995 cozy American detective fiction; eleventh of MacLeod's novels of Boston Brahmin Sarah Kelling and art investigator Max Bittersohn. The administrator of the Wilkins Museum dies suddenly, and Sarah turns out to be named as her executrix.

There's a very noticeable up-tick in quality here from The Resurrection Man, as well as a harking-back to The Palace Guard, the third book in the series, back when MacLeod was writing mystery with some comic characters rather than comedy dressed up in mystery's second-best trousers. There's a genuine sense of threat here, rather than just the protagonists being the only sane people in the asylum. Even though Max is entirely missing from the book, something that's crippled some of the earlier entries in the series, this is the best MacLeod I've read for quite a while.

Sarah wanted her husband. She wanted her child, she wanted her house, she wanted her own life. But she must not take what she wanted until she'd earned it; because that was how she'd been reared. And it served her right for not having the intestinal fortitude to squirm free of the Puritan ethic.

It helps that there's a large cast, meaning that while MacLeod can still indulge her authorial preference for all bad people being personally unpleasant and vice versa, not all the unpleasant people here are directly responsible for the crime. Sarah finds herself attacked, and the actual murder weapon is deposited at her office (for a reason which, once explained, makes no diegetic sense at all). Then it's a matter of finding out what that administrator was up to, and who might suffer from revelations of things that happened thirty years ago.

"I can't go to you because I have a banged-up knee as a result of somebody's trying to run over me in a 1989 Toyota."

"Great Scott! Couldn't you have waited for a Cadillac or a Mercedes? We do have the family position to consider…"

It's fairly obvious who must be responsible, because MacLeod isn't that good a plotter. And there's perhaps a bit too much leaning on The Palace Guard for characters and situation. But given how much better a book this is than other MacLeods from this time I'll give her a pass.

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Previous in series: The Resurrection Man | Series: Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn | Next in series: The Balloon Man

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