Simon Brett is “a prolific writer of whodunnits” according to Wikipedia. He’s also a television and radio writer, but with at least forty mystery novels under his belt, prolific would seem to be the right word.
He is probably best known for the Charles Paris series – to which he is apparently going to return soon with the appropriately titled A Decent Interval – and the Fethering Mysteries. I’ve sampled both of these series – Paris in Cast, In Order Of Disappearance and Fethering in The Body On The Beach and Death On The Downs – and while I’ve enjoyed them, the Fethering books in particular, I was never particular drawn by the mystery element. The books were whodunnits, but the murderer was never remotely surprising. One of the reasons that this surprised me was that Nev Fountain, writer of the outstandingly plotted (and extremely well written as well) Mervyn Stone mysteries cited Brett as one of his inspirations, so I asked Nev for recommendations. And about four months later, I finally got round to reading one of them.
The Deveraux Hotel in Littlehampton is effectively an upper-class retirement home – containing an assortment of people basically treading water until the inevitable. When a vacancy arises, enter Mrs Pargeter, an elderly lady with a mysterious past. Soon after she arrives, another guest takes a suspicious tumble down the stairs. Soon after that, another one dies… Mrs Pargeter takes it upon herself to investigate – but she may need the help of some rather unscrupulous friends to do so…
So, what did I think? Well, my expectations had been lowered somewhat by my last encounter with Simon Brett’s work, but, unlike Charles Paris, I found Mrs Pargeter a charming lead and very easy to read about. I think that’s rather crucial with your sleuth – if you find them annoying, then you aren’t going to want to sit around listening to their theories.
The plot trundles along nicely, with a couple more bodies showing up, a secondary plot strand that does a good job of distracting from the main one, and the mystery of who exactly the late Mr Pargeter was is a nice diversion as well. Not sure I can say much more than that really – it was a fun read, one of the first real page-turners that I’ve read in a while.
Points off, however, for the unmasking of the villain – which is done purely by a process of elimination. No clues that I noticed at all, just an exercise in human nature. I guess it shows how much I enjoyed the read, as normally, this could ruin a book for me, but I only found it mildly irksome. The very effective and thoughtful last chapter helped ease the mild annoyance as well, and I’ve already purchased the next book in the series for my Kindle – and the next Charles Paris as well. On the strength of this, I might give him another go too.