Cherringham – A Lesson In Murder by Matthew Costello & Neil Richards

A Lesson In MurderAnd now for something completely different – a serial novel.

Jack Brennan is an ex-NYPD homicide detective who, after losing his wife, retires to the Cotswolds. There, he meets the newly single mother of two Sarah Edwards, a web designer. And since about a year ago, they’ve been regularly solving one crime a month, as a new story (novella length, roughly 100 pages) is released at that pace. This is the start of the second run of twelve stories.

Jack and Sarah are called to investigate some mysterious events at an exclusive girls’ school, where it seems some girls are playing pranks. But when, inevitably, the pranks turn deadly, it seems there’s a murderer on the prowl.

First off, this is my first encounter with Jack and Sarah and I feel that I ought to go back and read the first “episode” at least. The format doesn’t allow much room for background, so the notion that an ex-cop and a web designer have set up their own detective agency came across as a bit odd to me.

It’s a bright, breezy tale that doesn’t hang around and packs a respectable number of plot points into 100 pages – I’ve read 500 page monsters with less. It does fall prey to the inevitable problem of how to minimise suspects when you’ve set a murder at a school – i.e. somewhere with a minimum of 100 students and 15 staff – and the solution here is basically not to mention it and hope the reader doesn’t think too hard about it.

The publicity compares it to Rosamund Pilcher – a romance writer, I believe, but there’s not much romance in this episode – and Inspector Barnaby – i.e. the television show known over here as Midsomer Murders. Handy fact: when John Nettles left, Tom Barnaby was replaced by his cousin John Barnaby because in more countries, Inspector Barnaby is the name of the show! Poor old Jones – no wonder he left if he had to change his name to get promoted… But the book does share a trait with the show, namely a lack of clues, the criminal being a guessing game, rather than a logic puzzle.

It’s very hard to judge this series based on the strength of what feels a bit like one chapter of a book – especially when it deals with schools. I’m a school teacher and there are at least two glaring errors to me about school life in the UK, one of which is tied up in the motive so I can’t say anything about that. (The other is the school having a 50m swimming pool, when there are only about 20 of these in the whole country!) But I enjoyed it enough – and I love the idea of the project – to look at the series again in the future. Maybe I need to head back to the start of the series. Anyway, Worth A Look.

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16 comments

  1. An interesting series, it seems. I’d never heard of it, so many thanks for the headsup. I may very well give this one a look in that I like the idea of reading, for this form of fiction, novellas rather than those godawful padded-out 500-pagers you mention. (There are plenty of long books that I like, but I’m getting so so so weary of the notion that anything under 400 pages is a novella . . .)

    Midsomer Murders is called Midsomer Murders in the US too. I quite like the Tom Barnaby version — a very different Barnaby — although my wife much misses John Nettles, one of her favorite pieces of eye candy.

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  2. In Italy it is definitely ‘L.Ispettore Barnaby’ – I do quite like the idea of a serial published like this, very Dickensian – I take it this is purely an electronic endeavour?

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  3. Regarding your next review (Face To Face): Though the basic plot is very clever, the clue left by the dying victim is utterly ridiculous. No dying person would leave such an unreliable clue !

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