On the surface, the village of Nether Monkslip is idyllic and peaceful; the perfect place for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life. It certainly seemed the perfect escape for Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent, turned vicar after a horrible incident made him question his job and his life.
You don’t have to dig very deep beneath the surface though to discover that Nether Monkslip, like most places, is nowhere near as perfect as it might seem. And the root of all of the village’s issues can be traced back to just one woman, be it a very formidable example of the gender.
Wanda Batton-Smythe is the sort of woman who needs to be in control of everything and everybody around her and only capable of securing her imagined position by putting down everybody she encounters. And, with the Harvest Fayre only a few days away, nobody escapes the attention or the wrath of this very unpopular president of the Women’s Institute.
When Wanda’s body is discovered in the village hall on the day of the Fayre, it appears at first that she died as the result of an accident involving her allergy to peanuts. Max Tudor’s secret service instincts kick in almost immediately though. He can’t quite put his finger on it, but something appears wrong and he is convinced he is looking at the results of foul play rather than misfortune.
The police share Max’ concerns and pull him into the investigation. As the vicar, Max has better insight into the villager’s lives and more opportunity to sound them out than the police could ever have. But, with nearly every person in the village having a reason to dislike if not hate the victim and everybody’s comings and goings confused as a result of the Fayre it will take a lot of talking, time and some deep reflection before the mystery is solved.
I’m not quite sure what to say about this book and feel a bit ambivalent about it. To start with the positives, I really liked Max Tudor as a character. The contrast between his past as an MI5 agent and his present as the village vicar make him a fascinating protagonist. It also allows the author to portray him as a seasoned yet gentle investigator. I also enjoyed the village setting and the various characters living there. And the mystery was well developed and presented; all the clues where there, available to the reader. The solution, while being a bit convoluted, made sense and fit the over-all story line.
On the down side, I wasn’t too fond of the authors need to describe everything mentioned in the book in almost tedious detail. Max Tudor didn’t enter a room or house without the reader being treated to long, and often irrelevant, descriptions of what could be found there. I found that these descriptions tended to drag me out of the story rather than pull me in and made me want to skim passages.
Another thing that failed to convince me were the numerous references to other works of fiction such as:
“For it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single vicar must be in want of a wife.”
“The woman who liked to stir hornets’ nests.”
“She wondered if it were too soon to put the cat among the pigeons.”
I’m sure there were quite a few other references but these stuck out for me. I can’t quite make up my mind whether the author was trying to be clever or funny or something else altogether. On the other hand, this didn’t iritate me so much as bemuse me, and it is quite possible that other readers would get a kick out of looking for and finding these references.
Overall though I thought this was a cute and cosy fun mystery. The book is well written, the mystery and its solution worked and were well plotted and Max Tudor is an interesting character. There are at least two more books to come in this series and I will definitely read the next book, “A Fatal Winter”, before making up my mind about this series.