Review of Death on the Downs – A Fethering Mystery by Simon Brett

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In the depths of winter, still recovering from the over-indulgence of the Christmas holidays, this entertaining whodunit certainly hits all the right spots.

Caught out in a sudden downpour during a walk on the South Downs, Carole Sedden shelters in a dilapidated barn – only to discover deathonthedownstwo fertiliser bags packed with human bones. The gossips in the Hare and Hounds, the local pub in the hamlet of Weldisham, immediately identify the corpse as Tamsin Lutteridge, a young woman who disappeared several months earlier. But when Carole and her new neighbour, Jude, investigate further, they are not so sure…

Firstly, what this novel isn’t. You don’t get a graphic anatomy lesson in decomposition as in a Patricia Cornwall or Kathy Reiches – neither is this a Rankinesk study in world-weary cynicism. Which is a refreshing change as the current whodunit trend seems to be striving to make each book more bloodily horrifying than the last. Though neither are we in a Disneyland version of the genre. Brett treats the murder with suitable seriousness and his well written heroine is far more likely to be standing next to you in Tescos than some protagonists found in more lurid novels.

However, for me the outstanding feature of the book are the descriptions of the local landscape and characters. The acerbic humour running through these word sketches are a joy to read. The narrative pace is apparently unhurried, so I wasn’t flipping back to check up on clues or characters I might have missed during a half-page of inattention. Which didn’t prevent me staying up till 2 am in order to reach the denouement, where again, Brett’s capable storytelling pedigree is apparent. The ending was suitably satisfying with all the major plotlines thoroughly tied up.

My only niggle – and I am conscious that this a matter of personal preference – is that a certain amount of mystery regarding one of the protagonists wasn’t resolved. As this was a theme running through the story I did feel a little cheated that by the end I still didn’t know all the details. However, when writing a multi-volume series, it is always a fine judgement call as to how many hooks to leave trailing in order to tempt readers to continue with the other books.

I don’t need any such inducement. Brett’s witty, well-crafted slices of West Sussex murder and mayhem are right up there, jostling with the latest steampunk and urban fantasy offerings.
8/10

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