Occasionally I enjoy reading a book that will probably never be described as a classic, but is a really enjoyable light read, especially for the holiday season. This contemporary murder mystery is a loving evocation of the life and times of Whitstable, particularly at Oyster Festival time. I do not know Whitstable at all, being in the Midlands, but I feel I have learnt something of coastal towns, grateful for yet challenged by the yearly onslaught of visitors.
Pearl is a single mother whose beloved son, Charlie, for whom she has sacrificed a promising career in the Police, is now at Canterbury University. His relationship with his new girlfriend Tizzy adds to her feeling that she must find new activities to fill the gap his absence has caused. Pearl (yes, the name is one of the deliberate bits of humour that run throughout this book) already runs a successful oyster based café with her memorable and loveable mother, Dolly. Dolly has a ripe sense of humour and an extravagant love of life.
Polly, missing her police career, has set up a detective agency which is not exactly bringing in a huge clientele. Her first prospective client is an unattractive man, but everything is put into perspective when she discovers a body. Death in suspicious circumstances is followed by investigations both official and unofficial, as a friend’s background becomes convoluted and emotionally complex. Pearl finds herself becoming attracted by Chief Inspector Mike McGuire whose own grief is affecting his judgement and impartiality. Other characters may or may not be significant to the mystery, but the lonely Ruby and the suspicious rich visitors begin to confuse the pictures being built up by Pearl and the reluctantly involved Mike.
There are lots of lovely pictures of the community in a small town, challenged by a mysterious death. All is not doom and gloom in this book, as Dolly creates confusion with her unusual dance classes and other high jinks. This is not a great literary book, and in particular there are inconsistencies of character and unlikely coincidence which make the outcome of the mysteries frustrating. Also, I found Pearl’s involvement a little unrealistic, given that her detective experience would have been limited.
This is an enjoyable read, which maintained my interest despite its unevenness. I am looking forward to reading the other two paperbacks I have tracked down, and hope to find out more about Whitstable and its inhabitants.
Meanwhile life in the Midlands continues busy as ever. A recent birthday for Northernvicar meant a huge treat for over sixty people on a steam hauled train followed by a fish and chip meal and party. No oysters though!