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by Clare Curzon
St Martin's Minotaur, November 2005
272 pages
ISBN: 0312318766

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The prolific Clare Curzon's latest mystery, LAST TO LEAVE, should delight the sort of readers who also enjoy playing Cluedo, or reading Agatha Christie. The components are a grand old mansion in Buckinghamshire, a large, quarrelling, and prominent family, and a series of disasters.

Carlton Dellar and his older brother are the patriarchs of the Dellar clan. The former, an esteemed poet of Methuselaean years and appearance, is celebrating his 80th birthday with the extended family when the ancestral home, Larchmoor Place, catches fire.

When the ashes cool, one Dellar, the affable young Eddie, is comatose after an apparent assault; his rebellious twin sister Jess is missing; and an unidentified body, charred beyond recognition, has surfaced in the ruins. Curzon's recurring character, Thames Valley detective Sergeant Mike Yeadings, must solve the several Dellar mysteries.

The plot is indeed Byzantine. I had to draw a family tree in order to discern what was going on, and at the beginning it seems as if any of the Dellars could be the guilty party.

But the fun of solving the mystery is slightly deflated by the formulaic and two-dimensional storytelling. All of the Dellars are types -- the opposite-personality twins, the sage poet, the scheming harridan trophy wife, the money-grubbing relations; the dowdy autistic dependent spinster; and the rakish motorbiker.

None of the characters were complex enough to excite any interest in their lives, much less their murderers. The romance between Jess and a powerful married man is evidently supposed to look like a bold, opinion-defying romance, but Curzon doesn't show any hint of this in the two characters' thoughts.

Kate, the twins' mother, does little except worry and grieve throughout the book. The main culprit, when finally revealed, turns out to be an absurdly irrational caricature in amateur psychology.

Most annoyingly, not a line of the great poet's poetry, nor a hint about his influence, motivations, themes or obsessions is shown. Is this really not relevant to his story, and not mentioned in his family circle?

Still, if you like solving logic puzzles, you'll like this cosy. But it might help to draw yourself a game board.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, August 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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