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by Rebecca Tope
Allison & Busby, February 2010
320 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749007931

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's very rare that I read a book which I have the urge to pitch out of a train window. It's lucky that the train from Birmingham to Leicester had sealed windows…

I should say at the outset that I rarely read cosy mysteries. I picked up SLAUGHTER IN THE COTSWOLDS mainly because it's set near where I live. And that is about the only thing to recommend it.

I'm tempted to provide my bullet point list to illustrate why this book made me so mad. But I can actually sum it up in a sentence – a paper-thin plot, a smug, annoying and selfish lead character and thoroughly unlikeable supporting cast.

The thing is, though, I'm sure we're supposed to want to be friends with Thea Osborne, the main character in Rebecca Tope's Cotswolds series. Thea, a widow, earns money by house-sitting for people. She's the kind of woman who's always willing to give you the benefit of her advice, whether you want to hear it or not. The kind of woman who calls herself plain-speaking and the rest of us call a pain in the rear end.

Thea's father has just died, and it's brought all the relations out of the woodwork, many of whom make our heroine look witty and charming. So she's glad to get away and house-sit for Babs and Cedric Angell, who have a gloomy house and a menagerie of animals. But of course there's no chance of any peace and quiet when Thea's older sister Emily turns up after having witnessed a murder.

The plot itself is creaky and thin (the ending verges on cheating the reader), but it pales into insignificance alongside some leaden dialogue and Thea's rampant stupidity. She's told not to let the dog off their leads in a nearby field in case the farmer shoots them. So guess what she does… And then there are her bizarre and seemingly random assertions, including the claim that woman aren't interested in sex after the age of 40.

In that clumsy way many cosies have of making sure the lead character can interfere in the investigations, Thea is provided with a boyfriend who's a senior policeman. But for someone who clearly thinks she's Miss Marple's sparky younger sister, she has some seriously stupid responses to Phil's explanations of what's going on. In fact, I rapidly began to feel sorry for Phil, especially when our supposedly mature woman of the world starts simpering over a handsome vicar.

We all make mistakes and do things that make us cringe in retrospect. But glorifying selfishness, smugness and incompetence isn't in the least attractive.

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2010

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