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by The Mulgray Twins
Allison & Busby, May 2007
304 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749081449

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There are occasions on which any attempts at a plot summary are doomed to failure, and worse to give a misleading picture of the book. This is one such occasion. It is even difficult to find any description of the book; 'cosy thriller' comes closest and if that sounds like a contradiction in terms it probably is.

In the opening chapters we meet the heroine and narrator, DJ Smith, who is supposedly an undercover agent for Customs and Excise, and works in tandem with her trained sniffer-cat Gorgonzola. She is dispatched to a Scottish hotel to investigate a possible heroin-smuggling operation.

The hotel is owned, run and occupied by a cast of comic grotesques names include Miss F Lannelle, Hiram J Spinks and Waldo M Himburger Jnr, which will give an idea of the kind of comedy involved. At this point the book seems to be heading for Martha Grimes territory, a romp involving absurd stereotypes and comic 'situations', which are in part a parody of certain genre conventions.

There is actually one decent scene here, when our heroine submerges herself in a fish-pond at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens in order to evade detection. But these chapters will please or dismay depending on whether the reader appreciates the rather heavy-handed humour, and a book in which a trained sniffer-cat plays a leading role.

However after about six chapters of this the book changes direction. DJ is subjected to the first of a series of attacks and the first dead body pops up soon afterwards. Any mystery in the plot is quickly resolved and the principal villain becomes obvious (the book is not therefore a normal sort of cosy, and readers who are expecting a traditional whodunit of any kind are warned that they will not find this here).

Thereafter the plot consists of DJ attempting to entrap the villain and prevent the heroin-smuggling operation, and in the process getting herself into one woman-in-jeopardy situation after another. The problem here is that such situations only really work if the character is believable and therefore the reader empathises with her, and the situations are realistic.

It is at this point that the realisation that the book is a contradiction in terms starts to kick in! On the one hand no attempt is made to give any sort of realism to DJ Smith as a character, to her job, to any connection with any conceivable reality. Nothing wrong with that if the book is a bizarre comedy or a fanciful whodunit. But when you combine it with the woman-in-jeopardy mode, which depends on realism, well the result is, to be kind, something of an oddity.

The Mulgray Twins, Helen and Morna, are identical twins, which provides them with a certain advantage in terms of publicity. Writing duos have a long and honourable history in the annals of mystery fiction, from Ellery Queen and the Coles up to PJ Tracy today. Sadly NO SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES is not going to add to those annals.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, December 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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