Crime Fiction Alphabet: H is for The Hanging in the Hotel

The Crime Fiction Alphabet has reached the letter H this week and I’ve chosen Simon Brett’s The Hanging in the Hotel. I listened to the audiobook read by Simon Brett. This is the fifth book in his Fethering Mysteries series.

Synopsis from Fantastic Fiction:

A young solicitor is found hanged from his four-poster bed in a country house hotel following an all-male society dinner the night before. Jude doesn’t believe it was suicide, and with her friend Carole’s help, it would appear that The Pillars of Sussex are involved in a grand collusion. 

Jude and Carole are neighbours and they often find themselves involved in solving murders! They’re an interesting pair, Carole a retired civil servant, cautious and analytical, Jude, impulsive, an alternative healer and very inquisitive (nosey). Jude perseveres in believing the young solicitor’s death was murder, despite the police insistence that it was suicide. Her belief is reinforced when her friend Suzy Longthorne, the hotel’s owner, wants to keep things hushed up and accepts it was suicide. There are too many inconsistencies for Jude to accept that idea. The Pillars of Society are an obnoxious bunch, misogynists, who drink too much and are very fond of themselves, and they are the prime suspects.

Jude and Carole go over and over the events, discussing the whys and wherefores, talking to everyone concerned, who all seem to have impeccable alibis, and following up lots of red herrings.There was just too much speculation and introspection which slowed down the action.  The murderer could have been anyone and by the end I didn’t much care who it was.

I didn’t like this book as much as the others that I’ve read, namely The Body on the Beach, the first in the Fethering series, The Stabbing in the Stables and Murder in the Museum. It may be because I was listening, rather than reading, so I shall still read more of the Fethering books.

May’s Reading & Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

I read a lot in May – well I read and listened, because three of the books were audiobooks, which was quite a novelty for me. In total I ‘read’ 11 books and 9 of them were crime fiction. So far I’ve only reviewed 4 of them.

This is what I read –  the links are to my posts on the books and * indicates crime fiction:

  1. Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley* 4/5
  2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene 3/5
  3. Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie* 3.5/5
  4. The Redeemed by M R Hall* 4.5/5
  5. Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves* 4/5
  6. The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett * (library audiobook) 2/5
  7. Fatherland by Robert Harris* 5/5
  8. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 4/5
  9. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle* 3/5 (library audiobook)
  10. The Coroner by M R Hall* (library book) 4/5
  11. Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson* 3/5 (advanced reading copy)

I’m aiming to review the rest of the books, but for now here are notes on them.

Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley is set in Penzance in Cornwall. Matthew Glynn, a bookseller,is found bludgeoned and strangled, which sets Chief Superintendent Wycliffe a difficult mystery to solve. The answer lies in the past and in the Glynn family’s background. I enjoyed this book, which I read quickly, eager to know the outcome, but the ending was a let down.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie. I always like Agatha Christie’s books and although I don’t think this is one her better books, it was a satisfying read. It’s a closed room type mystery. Who killed Louise, the wife of the celebrated archaeologist leading the Hassanieh dig? Only the people at the dig could have done it, but which one – they’re all under suspicion? Poirot doesn’t appear until quite late on in the book, but, of course, works it all out.

The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett (audiobook). This is the fifth of the Fethering Mysteries, in which Jude and her friend Carole investigate the death of one of the guests at the local country house hotel, following the dinner attended by the all-male members of the Pillars of Sussex the night before. It looks like suicide but Jude thinks it can’t be. I got rather tired listening to this book as Jude and Carole endlessly (or so it seemed) went over and over the events and questioned the suspects.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to Wolf Hall. This book certainly deserves a post of its own. Here I’ll just comment that this chronicles the fall of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and Cromwell’s part in satisfying Henry’s wishes. I don’t think it’s quite as captivating as Wolf Hall, but it does show just how devious Cromwell could be.

My Crime Fiction Book of the Month is a close call between  Fatherland by Robert Harris  and The Redeemed by MR Hall, both of which had me engrossed.

Fatherland is a fast paced thriller, set in a fictional Germany in 1964, a Germany that had been victorious in the Second World War. It begins with the discovery of the body of one of the former leading members of the Nazi party, who had been instrumental in devising ‘the final solution’. It’s a complex book and leads police detective Xavier March into a very dangerous situation as he discovers the truth.

The Redeemed by MR Hall is by contrast not about a police investigation but is the third book in which Jenny Cooper, a coroner investigates the death of a man discovered in a church yard, the sign of the cross carved into his abdomen. At first it looks like a horrific suicide, but as Jenny delves deeper during her inquest she finds links to yet more deaths. This is the third book in M R Hall’s Jenny Cooper series and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately borrowed the first book, The Coroner, from the library. They do stand well on their own but I think it helps to read them in sequence. In The Coroner Jenny begins her career, having been a solicitor for fifteen years. She obviously has devastating events in her personal life that she has to deal with.

May’s reading has been exclusively fiction, so I’m looking forward to reading some nonfiction in June. I’m feeling like reading a biography or two.

See the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise for other bloggers’ choices of book of the month for May ‘“ and add your favourite May read to the collection.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: S is for …

… The Stabbing in the Stables by Simon Brett, the seventh book in the Fethering Mysteries series.

Description from Fantastic Fiction:

Fethering’s favorite sleuths are at it again as Jude and Carole Seddon find themselves in the midst of some horseplay, after stumbling upon the body of ex-equestrian Walter Fleet at Long Bamber Stables.

The police attribute the stabbing death to the mysterious “Horse Ripper,” who’s been mutilating mares across West Sussex-and who Walter obviously caught in the act. But considering Walter’s track record out of the saddle, Jude and Carole find that there are plenty of suspects- including Walter’s put-upon wife and more than a few jealous husbands who wanted Walter put out to pasture.

Jude and Carole are amateur detectives, who live next door to each other in the village of Fethering. Jude (who won’t give her last name) is a healer and takes on a new patient a horse and his owner Sonia Dalrymple, kept in stable owned by Lucinda and Walter Fleet. Carole,  retired from the Home Office, divorced and shy, is very different from Jude, but they work well together.

They make enquiries and discover that Walter was not a popular man, not even his wife mourns his death. The Stables, however, is a source of rivalry and secrets, and suspicion lands on Donal, a drunken ex-jockey and horse healer. Jude and Carole don’t believe he is the murderer even when the police arrest him. Sonia, tense and  verging on hysteria is obviously hiding something and Imogen, a teenager helping out at the Stables, behaves very oddly.

It’s an easy read, a ‘cozy mystery’, enjoyable and not too taxing on the brain, as I did work it out before the denouement.

A Crime Fiction Alphabet post for the letter S.

Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter by Simon Brett

This is the first in what is described as ‘a gloriously silly new series set in the 1920s and featuring a pair of aristocratic siblings: the honorable and handsome Blotto, who has all the brains of a billiard ball, and his sister, the beautiful and brilliant Twinks.‘ The dedication, ‘To Pete, who always had a taste for the silly‘ is also a give-away that this book is not to be taken too seriously.

I rather liked Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter. It is indeed silly in the P G Wodehouse style of Jeeves and Wooster silly, full of slang and poking fun at the amateur detective who is an expert in identifying toxins, reading clues and being several steps ahead of the plodding police. It begins when Blotto, the rather dim son of the Dowager Duchess of Tawcester, discovers a dead body in the library. The police, represented by Chief Inspector Trumbull, who although ‘deeply stupid‘, knows his place:

The role of the police was to do a lot of boring legwork and paperwork, to trail up investigatory cul-de-sacs, to be constantly baffled, and dutifully amazed when an amateur sleuth revealed the solution to a murder mystery. (page 9)

The body just happened to be that of one of the Ex-King of Mitteleuropia’s entourage,who are all staying at Tawcester Towers. Then the Ex-King’s daughter, the beautiful Ex-Princess Ethelinde is kidnapped and Blotto, together with his chauffeur Corky Froggett, sets off across Europe to rescue her. It does escalates into farce with Blotto fighting off canon balls with his cricket bat. There are also some pointed remarks about class, race and forms of government, such as this about the royal family and the British government because as Blotto explains as well as the monarch there is also:

…  this bunch of chappies called the House of Commons …  which is actually rather well named … because a lot of the boddos in there are rather common. You know some of them didn’t even go to minor public schools. Anyway they do all the boring guff … you know, making laws and increasing taxes and all that. But then there’s the House of Lords, which is where our sort of people go, and they do important things … like seeing that their own particular bits of the countryside get looked after … and finding ways of avoiding all these taxes that the little oiks in the House of Commons keep raising. It all seems to work rather well. (page 128)


… [democracy is] a system based on the illusion of consultation with the common people. (page 129)

As I said – I rather liked it.

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Felony & Mayhem; Reprint edition (16 Feb 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 9781934609699
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934609699
  • Source: Review copy

The Body on the Beach by Simon Brett: Book Review

The Body on the Beach is the first in Simon Brett’s Fethering Mysteries. It’s an easy read, a ‘cozy mystery’, set in a fictitious village on the south coast of England. Not a typical village as it has a large residential conurbation, but at its heart is the High Street, with its flint-faced cottages, dating back to the early 18th century. Radiating out from the High Street are a number of new developments, Victorian and Edwardian houses, bungalows, post-war council houses and a large private estate of huge houses backing on to the sea.

Carole Seddon has taken early retirement from her career at the Home Office to live there and as the book opens she is confronted by a new neighbour, Jude, who with her informality and casual approach to life breaks all the accepted local conventions. Carole views her with slight distaste. But when Carole is also confronted by the the discovery of a dead body on the beach, that has disappeared by the time the police go to investigate, she gradually accepts Jude’s help. Together they set about solving the mystery, which gets more complicated with the discovery of the body of a local lad.

This is an entertaining whodunnit which I liked well enough. It wasn’t too difficult to work out the identity of the first body and the culprit. I liked the contrast between Carole and Jude – Carole, set in her ways, reserved and conventional and the flamboyant, casual Jude. Despite her informality Jude reveals very little about her life and relationships, despite Carole’sefforts to get to know more about her.  I also liked the way Brett so convincingly describes the relationships between the different groups of Fethering’s residents.

There are 11 books in the Fethering series.  I’ve already read the fourth –  Murder in the Museum, so there are plenty more to read, the latest one being The Shooting in the Shop. The full list is in Wikipedia and Simon Brett also has a website.

Book Notes

I’ve read a few books recently and not written about them.They’re library books and due back very soon so  I thought I’d jot down a few notes about each one.

  • Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell (audio book)
  • Dave and I listened to this in the car whilst travelling to Northumberland and back. This is an Inspector Wexford mystery – a man taking his dog for a walk discovers a severed hand, which turns out to be part of a skeleton wrapped in a purple sheet. The police have to discover the identity of the victim – and of the body of a second corpse found in a nearby house. Both have been lying undiscovered for at least ten years. I’m not used to listening to books and I did find it a bit difficult to follow. Of course, the sat nav and traffic news kept interrupting which didn’t help, but even so I did get confused. There were too many people and sub-plots. Maybe I should read the book.

    It seemed overlong. I thought it would have been improved if it had been shorter and less rambling. It was narrated by Christopher Ravenscroft who plays Mike Burden in the Wexford TV series. He took Wexford’s voice so well I could almost imagine it was George Baker reading that part.

  • Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill
  • I loved this memoir. Diana Athill comes across as an honest writer, not afraid to say what she thinks, now she is no longer an editor. As the title indicates, she writes about what it is like getting towards the end of her life. At the time of writing she was 89 years old and looking back on her life with few regrets. This is a book I may well buy to re-read at leisure.

  • All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson 
  • I have mixed feelings about this book, parts of it really interested me, but I could have done without the terrorist attack and involvement of MI5 and MI6. This is only the 2nd Inspector Banks book I’ve read and it’s the 18th in Robinson’s series. I think that doesn’t matter as I had no difficulty in sorting out his relationships and although other cases are referred to this reads OK as a stand-alone book. What I did have difficulty with was believing the spy stuff – one of the victims had been a spook. What I do like is Robinson’s descriptive writing eg:

    It was after sunset, but there was a still glow deep in the cloudless western sky, dark orange and indigo. Banks could smell warm grass and manure mingled with something sweet, perhaps flowers that only opened at night. A horse whinied in a distant field. The stone he sat on was still warm and he could see the lights of Helmshore beneath the tree, down at the bottom of the dale, the outline of the sqaure church tower with its odd round turret, dark and heavy against the sky. Low on the western horizon, he could see a planet, which he took to be Venus, and higher up, towards the north, a red dot he guessed was Mars. (page 224)

  • Murder in the Museum by Simon Brett
  • This is the fourth in Simon Brett’s Fethering Mysteries series. It’s set in Bracketts, an Elizabethan house, the former home of Esmond Chadleigh, a celebrated poet during his lifetime. The house is about to be turned into a museum, although not all the Trustees agree. Carole Seddon has been co-opted onto the Board of Trustees and when a skeleton is discovered in the kitchen garden she soon becomes involved in solving the mystery. Then Sheila Cartwright, the bossy domineering former Director of the Trustees is shot, and Carole finds her own life is in danger.

    I haven’t read any of the other Fethering mysteries so have yet again  jumped into the middle of a series. In this case I think it would have helped to read the earlier ones. Carole and her neighbour Jude obviously have acted as sleuths in the past. I liked this book, once I’d read a few chapters and thought Carole and Jude’s relationship was well described. Carole likes everything cut and dried and out in the open with her friends. She cannot understand and resents Jude’s reticence. I’m going to look out for more of Simon Brett’s books.