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by M J Trow
Allison & Busby, January 2011
288 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 074900892X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There's coming late to a party and arriving so late that everyone else has said their goodbyes and gone home, but in spite of the fact that this is the sixteenth book featuring Peter 'Mad Max' Maxwell, I never felt like a guest who had turned up too late to enjoy myself.

Instead of enjoying the retirement he'd been expecting, Maxwell finds himself in the position of having to convince his wife, Detective Sergeant Jacquie Carpenter-Maxwell that accompanying a group of Year Seven children on a getting-to-know-each-other trip to the Isle of White is somehow preferable to a family holiday abroad. He succeeds, but while he is spending his time with an ill-assorted bunch of teachers who are even less easy to manage than the children in the care, even his cat, the indomitable Count Mettternich, ends up taking an enforced holiday in the local cattery when Maxwell's neighbour, Mrs Troubridge, falls down the stairs and breaks her hip.

On the Isle of Wight, Izzy Medlicott, wife of the Head of Art, goes missing, and back in West Sussex, Jacquie's boss, DCI Henry Hall, starts to develop a suspicion that it was more a case of was she pushed rather than did she fall, so far as the elderly Mrs Troubridge is concerned. And within a very short space of time, the body count starts to rise alarmingly, convincing both Maxwell and the police that where deaths are concerned, there is no such thing as coincidence.

In general, I tend to find amateur detectives unconvincing, but Maxwell is a character solidly grounded in the real world, despite his eccentricities, and I found myself warming to him very quickly. Trow writes fluidly and has a light touch with humour. The children and their teachers are well-observed and convincing, and whilst the book is refreshingly devoid of high-octane excitement such as car chases, gun battles or gruesome death, it still managed to suck me into the story to such an extent that in the latter part of the book I'd developed a marked reluctance to put it down. Whilst the identity of the murderer may not come as a huge surprise and, unusually for me, I did pick up on some of the clues in the text, I still wanted to find out how things were going to wok out and the final pages managed to pack an unexpectedly powerful punch in an otherwise gentle, but always entertaining read.

The only jarring note in an very enjoyable book was the constant references to Maxwell's wife as a 'woman policeman'. It was clear that this was something of a running gag through the books, but I found it demeaning and patronising, however unintended it may have been. Jacquie Carpenter-Maxwell deserves better than to the butt of a joke that in any form has been obsolete for at least the last 20 years. Female police officers deserve more respect than that.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, March 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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