This is a book that I had not heard of before, a bit of a surprise given the premise. After all, here we have pastiches of three of the best known GAD detectives (Poirot, Wimsey and Father Brown) in the same space, with slightly different approaches, solving the same crime. And with a good deal of humour and lots of the standard golden age tropes. What’s not to like?
The novel is generally well regarded and I was really looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately I really am in two minds. There is indeed an awful lot to like. But, there is something that I find difficult to explain that just doesn’t work for me.
OK – the set up. We have Dr Thurston, his well liked wife and a collection of house guests and servants. After dinner Mrs Thurston meets her death in a somewhat bloody manner. We have a diverse collection of suspects both “upstairs and downstairs” and, at its heart, a locked room mystery. Into this walks the beer-swilling local copper Sergeant Beef who is almost too dim for words but reckons he knows exactly whodunnit. But – of course – what would a provincial plod know? Parachuted into the all of this are our three amateur sleuths Lord Simon Plimsoll, M. Amer Picon and Monseigneur Smith. No – it doesn’t take one of these three to work out who they are meant to be (if you get my drift…). And here is mystery number one. Why are they there? Maybe I was napping but their appearances on the scene just seem to “happen” for no obvious reason. Ok – suspension of disbelief and all that but it all seems a bit other-worldy.
Although the pastiches are rather obvious (just take their names!) I suppose they could have been even more extreme and that would have been irritating. As it is, Bruce has the good sense to tone it all down after the initial introductions and he actually presents a pretty well drawn picture of the MO of each of the sleuths as they go about their business in their very different ways. Lovers of order will like this book. The investigations follow a well-defined structure through the rest of the novel. Something like …..murder happens —- aftermath —- round of interviewing etc by Plimsoll, then Picon, then Smith —- some other stuff happens —– next round of deductions by the 3 amateurs in the same order….. etc etc. And all through this we have some decent backstory plot and the constant presence of Beef. And – you know what – maybe Beef isn’t that daft after all? Mmmmm.
What else do we have? The world of those “below stairs” and their relationship with those they serve is quite intriguing and – I guess – somewhat risque in places. The suspects are an interesting lot: some of the characters are bizarre (the padre in particular is way off-scale) but some of them are quite bland. Mmmmm again..
The denouement consists – you guessed it – of three solutions by the three sleuths. Which is the right one? Or is it even one of the three presented: is the story actually finished? In the end, the finale is quite satisfying, entertaining and was a genuine surprise to me – so well done Mr Bruce.
But, that aside, I’m struggling to summon up much more enthusiasm so I will leave it at that!
Overall it’s a qualified recommendation. Enjoyable, amusing, interesting but something I just can’t quite put my finger on that just doesn’t quite work. That’s the mystery!