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THIS PRIVATE PLOT
by Alan Beechey
Poisoned Pen, May 2014
305 pages
$24.95
ISBN: 1464202400


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Much has been made of Donna Tartt's decades between novels, but THE GOLDFINCH, while slow in arriving, ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize. So what, then, of a novel that has been fifteen years in the making? Alan Beechey may not win the Pulitzer Prize for THIS PRIVATE PLOT, but Oliver Swithin fans won't be disappointed. In the long-awaited third Oliver Swithin mystery, Alan Beechey plays to his strengths, offering plenty of humor and wordplay along with a great mystery.

Children's book author Oliver Swithin and his girlfriend Detective Sergeant Effie Strongitharm are spending time in the country with Oliver's family when, after streaking through the moonlight, they discover the hanged body of a retired radio broadcaster. While the police write the death off as suicide, Oliver suspects foul play and begins to investigate, and Effie helps him in spite of being forbidden to by her boss, Oliver's Uncle Tim. While searching for the murderer, Effie and Oliver uncover a multitude of village secrets as they question a "vampire," as well as the vicar, and even Oliver's brother and discover blackmail, international secrets, and a wealth of crimes, including murder. In true Beechey fashion, the novel is filled with literary references (five unmarried Bennet sisters, among others), lots of action, just enough danger to be believable, and interesting plot twists that keep the pages turning and the reader guessing.

While it isn't necessary to have read the earlier books in the series to enjoy this one, many of the characters do continue from previous books, and they and their relationships continue to evolve. Another thing that continues to evolve is Beechey's style: overall, one gets the impression that he is moving away from his clever wordplay and into more clever plotting and mystery building. That's not to say he misses any opportunities for humor and witticism, however. Readers who have come to appreciate his work for those aspects won't be disappointed, while those looking for a bit more substance in the story will also be satisfied. Even better: the ending seems to leave just enough of an opening so that we might expect more Oliver Swithin tales from this author. (Note: If you need to catch up on the Oliver Swithin mysteries but are having a hard time finding 15-year-old books, you'll be glad to know that Poisoned Pen Press has recently issued new editions of EMBARRASSMENT OF CORPSES and MURDERING MINISTERS, the first two books in the series, reviewed elsewhere on RTE.)

Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, May 2014

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