Simon Brett is patron of the West Sussex Writers club, so I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak a number of times. His witty take on the world pervades this pleasing cosy mystery.
When an author event at the local library ends in murder, Jude finds herself a suspect in the waspishly witty new Fethering mystery. Having been booked to give a talk at Fethering Library, successful author Burton St Clair invites his old friend Jude to come along. Although they haven’t met for twenty years, Jude is not surprised to find that St Clair hasn’t changed, with his towering ego and somewhat shaky relationship with the truth. What Jude hadn’t been suspecting however was that the evening would end in sudden, violent death. More worrying, from Jude’s point of view, is the fact that the investigating police officers seem to be convinced that she herself was responsible for the crime. With the evidence stacking up against her, Jude enlists the help of her neighbour Carole not just to solve the murder but to prevent herself from being arrested for committing it.
Set in a small village literally a stone’s throw from where we live in Littlehampton, which is mentioned several times in the book, I’ll freely admit that one of the attractions with this entertaining whodunit is the fact that I recognise the towns they visit. It is rather fun to so clearly visualise the setting during the investigation, even if the village of Fethering is a construct. Of course, the book would be a downright trudge if that was the only thing going for it, so the fact that I really like Jude and her relationship with her rather prickly neighbour, Carole. It’s a bonus they are both retired and of a certain age – while I haven’t yet retired, I’m also well into middle age and it’s a solid pleasure to read a book with two female protagonists who reflect my own age-group. It doesn’t happen all that often…
Jude is a thoroughly likeable protagonist, who during the story becomes the chief suspect in the murder. These days, with our overloaded justice system, it’s all too believable to see a scenario where she could be imprisoned for perpetrating a crime she didn’t commit, so the stakes in this case are far higher than terminal boredom. What turns this readable adventure into pure delight, however, are the acidic observations Jude and Carole both have on the world and the characters around them. Brett doesn’t hold back from having a pop at the state of the publishing industry and the struggles rural libraries are having to keep going, amongst other aspects of life in modern England – as well as the protagonists’ observations about the other characters they come into contact while on the case. Several times I giggled aloud at a nicely pithy phrase.
Any grizzles? Well, I was rather taken aback at having a crucial scene in the book where Jude is explaining the denouement glossed over in half a page, rather than being given the reactions of the characters involved. As the stakes were so high at this stage, I expected at least the first section to be fully depicted and the fact it wasn’t jarred with me. This is, after all, one of the planks of this particular genre and while Brett often successfully plays with readers’ expectations, this time it didn’t work. However, that is the only niggle and it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker. I found the ending not only satisfying, but unexpectedly poignant. If you are looking for an entertaining cosy mystery with a thoroughly modern take on the genre, then go looking for this offering – it reminded me all over again why I enjoy Brett’s writing so much. While I obtained an arc of The Liar in the Library from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.