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by Simon Brett
Isis/Audible, April 2012
Unabridged pages
ISBN: 1445019795

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Next-door neighbors in a quiet Sussex village, Carole and Jude are Fethering's resident amateur sleuths. They are a delightfully odd couple: Carole, a retired civil servant, is stuffy, snobbish even prudish, whereas Jude, who still works as a psychic healer, is mysterious, intuitive, fun-loving, and earthy. Aside from the accident of their domestic proximity, they have become close friends due to their mutual interest in sniffing out local murderers, of whom there seem to be an inordinate number.

In GUNS IN THE GALLERY (all the volumes in the series have alliterative titles), Carole and Jude attend a private gallery opening for the promising avant-garde London artist Denzil Willoughby, but the vernissage is disrupted by a vituperative tirade from Fennel, a young heiress who once dated him. Jude takes Fennel to her nearby estate and uses healing techniques to calm Fennel down. Though Fennel has a history of bipolar disorder, her outburst seems to have had a cathartic effect, so she goes off to bed in good spirits. In the morning, however, Jude finds her dead, an apparent suicide, a judgment that the police and all but Jude and Carole find credible.

Most eager to simply get on with everything is Chervil, Fennel's sister, who is about to open a high-end spa on the very premises where Fennel died. A murder would be most inconvenient. Fennel's mother seems relieved to have the temperamental Fennel out of the way at last, too. And then there are Fennel's boyfriends, Denzil among them. The gallery owner herself is a bit dodgy, as she has disappeared every Friday for years: Could Fennel have accidentally uncovered a secret? Whom exactly was Fennel's tirade aimed at? Wouldn't parents who name their daughters Fennel and Chervil be more likely targets of justifiable homicide?

Brett's books generally thrive on the lively banter between Carole and Jude and the two women's perceptive interrogations of likely suspects. The latter is always inherently preposterous in that it's a wonder that anyone at all speaks to them since they have no legal standing. Put it down to genteel British upbringing—everyone cooperates. There is also a third element that is now mostly passé—Carole's curiosity about Jude's life. For several volumes, Carole didn't even know Jude's last name and was too polite to ask directly. But by now, Carole knows and has accepted most of what she is going to learn. Carole has also developed and changed as far as she can. Her son, Stephen, has married, and becoming a grandmother has softened Carole a bit as has contact with Jude's offbeat lifestyle. In short, the series doesn't have anywhere to go now in terms of the development of the main characters, and the high-spirited humor is starting to wear thin, as well.

Simon Brett performs most of his own works. He is an accomplished actor turned author, and one of his other series is, in fact, about an actor/amateur detective named Charles Paris. Brett reads the Fethering mysteries with affection and glee, perhaps enjoying his humor a bit more than the audience will at times. But he is a superb narrator and has perfected the roles of Carole and Jude. He can give so much meaning to the pensive "Ahs" and "Hms" that Jude utters that some listeners will want to incorporate them into their own speech.

Brett makes this light comic sleuthing a delicious summer treat to take to the park or beach, preferably in audio form.

§ Karla Jay is a legally blind audio book addict, who lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Pace University.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, June 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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