This modern mystery of murder and motives set in the coastal town of Whitstable features, as with the first in the series, Pearl Nolan. It is a success not because of brilliant plotting but because of the sense of community in which the crimes are committed. Whitstable is a town transformed by summer visitors, but in the winter season in which this book is set the populace is dominated by a variety of characters, all significant to the plot. There is more than one murder, but the police are low key, and there seems to be no interest from the press or media generally. This dangerous situation is a well worked out mystery, featuring rather engaging characters and some interesting observations on small town life. Set during the build up to Christmas, the small preoccupations of present buying and meal preparations sit rather oddly with the suspicion of death from unnatural causes.
Pearl is woman with a successful small restaurant and catering business who is well known in the community for her charitable and social efforts. She has also opened a detective agency, but seems strangely reluctant to do any actual detecting, even when presented with a ‘case’ by more than one recipient of poison pen cards. Pearl continues to fulfil her rounds of visiting her accountant, the elegant Diana, dealing with the new guest staying with her mother, and doing last minute present buying for her absent son, Charlie. In all her activities and especially the investigation of unfortunate deaths, she is shadowed and sometimes accompanied by the sad and fairly attractive senior policeman, Mike McGuire. He seems strangely uninvolved in the actual work of detection, much of which seems to end up with the unqualified Pearl and her extensive local knowledge. Pearl’s mother, the eccentric Dolly, is less of a dominant force in this book, and it does lack some of the colour of the first in the series.
This book achieves an interesting blend of depicting a small town life, a tentative romance and a non violent series of murders. It forms an interesting picture of life in a community where people know each other, and they behave like real characters. There are comic interludes, especially when Pearl ends up going to a beautician for eyebrow work, which becomes something of a running joke. I enjoy the leisurely unpacking of situations, the self -doubt that Pearl shows as she wonder about taking on the hunt for a killer, the familiar practices of a community in the Christmas season. This is not a gory, bloody contemporary novel, but a gentle cosy mystery more in the style of Miss Marple than many modern mysteries or thrillers. It is unlikely in many respects, but this is probably one of its strengths as its fairly slow tempo gives a relaxing read, with red herrings, motives abounding, and most of all Whitstable in all seasons.
So we are enjoying that limbo between Christmas and New Year where some people are working, including NHS staff and some Vicars, whereas others are a little confused as to what to do next, with regular activities are resting. Today I went to see “A Matter of Life and Death” at a small cinema which was showing it on the big screen, together with a short but interesting talk about films of the 1930s and 1940s. As it is undoubtedly one of my favourite films, a good time was had!