Bertie And The Seven Bodies by Peter Lovesey

“Bertie, I can drink this stuff and say sober until kingdom come.”

“I’m the Prince of Wales, my dear. It’s my destiny to wait for kingdom come.”

1889 and the Prince of Wales (later to be King Edward VII) is off for a week in the country. Fans of the genre will know the sort of house party to expect. A mixture of personages, male and female of various occupations, party games, a shooting-party, bridge, billiards, plenty of food, a little casual bed-swapping… and plenty of murders.

When Queenie Chimes, a West End actress collapses face first into her dessert, the assumption is that she had a heart attack. But a note of paper, simply stating “Monday”, raises a little suspicion. And when a second body follows the next day with a similar note – well, saying “Tuesday” obviously – it seems that a killer is stalking the hallways. Luckily Bertie is on hand to exercise his skills in deduction. Unluckily, it seems that despite his best intentions, he isn’t particularly good at it. And the bodies are starting to pile up…

thought I’d give this one a go as I’ve heard a few good things about it recently, not least from Martin Edward, who, let’s face it, knows what he’s talking about. I had the good fortune to have a chat with the legend that is Peter Lovesey over a cup of tea at the Alibis From The Archive event recently and I was determined that as, soon as possible, I’d dig into his back catalogue again. So that, and the recommendation combined to lead me to this.

As you might be able to tell from the set-up (and the title), this is something of an homage to Dame Agatha and the Golden Age in general, but with a healthy dash of humour, both generally funny and with a nod to the conventions of the genre. It’s definitely worth mentioning the section where Bertie, who narrates the story, states that the reader may have been considering whether Bertie himself might be the murderer and while he doesn’t deny it outright, he does point out that such thoughts are somewhat treasonous… Similarly, there’s the obvious question of why a house party would continue as the corpses pile up, which is actually addressed, unlike in the days of yore.

T

he story is a real page turner. Bertie is a charming narrator, at times concerned with finding the murderer (except for the numerous times he thinks things are all over), at times more concerned with which of the women in the party (apart from his wife) he can entice into bed – even with a murderer at large, Bertie does want to have a good time. The plot keeps motoring along – it has to with that body count – and at the end of the day… damn, it’s clever. Not the identity of the murderer – which I missed but some won’t – but there’s something about the motive that makes you look back over the events of the book considering them in a different, more subdued, light.

How much should I recommend this? Put it this way, you know after reading a couple of crappy books, you need an entertaining easy read to get you back on track. And sometimes in that easy read, you find a depth that the longer, weightier tomes were lacking? Well, this is that book. It’s an absolutely first-rate read and comes Highly Recommended.

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