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by Simon Brett
Macmillan, March 2009
360 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0230014585

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE POISONING IN THE PUB is the tenth book 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 to 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.

This is a book which delivers in respect of its title from the first, utterly delightful, sentence - 'One of the most inauspicious events for any restaurant is to have a customer vomiting on the premises'. The pub concerned is the Crown and Anchor, landlord the usually jovial Ted Crisp - also Carole Seddon's one-time lover as series aficionados will know. It soon becomes apparent that the reason why some dodgy scallops induced such a gastric catastrophe had nothing to do with hygiene standards, but was part of a mounting campaign of intimidation against Ted. Events spiral rapidly downwards with a murder soon following. Naturally Carole and Jude are drawn in to investigate and try to solve the mystery. A strong cast of characters including a seedy comedian by the name of Dan Poke, a self-righteous bigot, an embittered Iraq veteran and Ted's unpleasant wife, who is seeking a large pound of flesh, enliven the proceedings.

Brett's output is terrific; his own web-site owns to near embarrassment at his near 80- books (not all mysteries). The strengths of the Fethering series - excellent clear prose, vivid characterisation and of course Brett's sharp comic eye, are ever-presents. However the quality of individual efforts varies and I was a little disappointed with 2008's BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES. Fortunately THE POISONING IN THE PUB represents a return to form. While there is a minimum of puzzling involved as the main outlines of the plot are very clear some way from the end, the book has quite a strong element of emotional involvement. Indeed it is worth noting that in the best of the Fethering books (as opposed to the Charles Paris or Mrs Pargeter series) Brett is dealing, albeit in a restrained manner, with social issues. Of course there are the easy caricatures - and few do them better than Brett - of the small-minded, the selfish and the loutish, but when he comes to dealing with the characters with learning difficulties who play quite a role in the book, or the Iraq veteran, he can display insight and sensitivity. The result of this is that one very much wants the villains to get their just desserts and being a Brett of course they do.

It would be foolish to pretend that THE POISONING IN THE PUB has any deep sociological or psychological insights; as with all of this series - and indeed his other mysteries - Brett's primary purpose is entertainment which he does extremely well. But it would be equally foolish to deny his ability to make some effective points along the way, which is what he achieves in the best of the Fethering series - of which this is certainly one.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, June 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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