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by Simon Brett
Macmillan, March 2008
339 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0230014577

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES is the ninth in the Fethering series. For those who are new to the series the following is a short summary - devotees may skip this paragraph. The protagonists in the Fethering series are next-door neighbours Carole and Jude. Carole, retired from the Home Office, is a repressed, buttoned-up snob; Jude conversely is a warm, emotional New Age healer. Somewhat improbably these two become firm friends; even more improbably, they then proceed to spend their time investigating a succession of murders (not, of course, as should already be clear, that it is either fair or sensible to use realism as a measure for this series). Fethering is a small town on the West Sussex coast, an area which it is clear Brett knows intimately. The books are - as with Brett's other series, the Charles Paris and Mrs Pargeter books - essentially light-hearted, though in varying degrees. While there is always some attention paid to various developments in Carole and Jude's personal lives the murder is always at the centre of the books.

BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES opens with Jude visiting the Fethering bookies to place some bets for an old man who is temporarily house-bound. Being Jude she already knows all the regulars, and has an occasional flutter herself. While she is there a young man whom she has not seen before comes in, but her attention is distracted because a horse on which she has placed a bet is running. When the race is over and she comes to leave she notices that there is blood on the floor; aided by Carole's dog Gulliver, whom she is walking, she follows the blood trail a short distance and comes upon a young man dying in an alley - he manages to gasp out the word 'Fi-fi' before expiring. It emerges that the young man is Tadeusz Jankowski, a Polish immigrant. Carole and Jude's investigations lead in several directions, including Clincham College a new University at a town further along the coast.

I would not say that BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES is one of the best of the Fethering series. The plot is really a little weak and its main outlines, if not the specific killer, are far from surprising; basically the narrative consists in Carole and Jude following various slender leads, most of which turn out to be dead ends. Having said this the final resolution and confrontation are very satisfying; not only because I had failed to guess the specific killer, but because his motivation had a surprising resonance and sadness. In any case Brett is always a pleasure to read. There are many writers who attempt the comic mystery, but exceedingly few who are capable of pulling it off; many attempts are utterly dreadful. It is a grave mistake to believe that this sort of mystery is somehow easier to write than something more serious ; in my experience of the results it seems to be much harder. So we should give thanks for Brett.

A further point to note is that while BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES is a 'cozy' (I distrust the word but make use of it here) this does not mean that it is also, as cozies often are, politically reactionary. I am not claiming Brett as some sort of radical, but much of the humour in this book is aimed at the small-minded racism of a certain type of middle-class Brit. Brett mimics what one might call the 'Daily Mail' mindset with unerring accuracy.

BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES may not be one of the Fethering series's, or Brett's, finest hours but it still delivers what his regular readers would expect. And reliability is no small virtue in a mystery writer.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, April 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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