Now, now, don’t worry. This isn’t about to become an ‘adults only’ blog. But over the summer I read two books that, if pressed, I really would have to describe as romps, and some of the best that I’ve read for ages. To my complete dismay, there are only 3 books in this series, and having read the first two, I’m lingering over getting the third just to prolong the enjoyment.
The first one, which I listened to while we were in Italy, was The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, while the second, devoured in a single afternoon when I just couldn’t put the book down, was The Affair of the Mutilated Mink. The third, which I’m waiting to come into the library, is The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks.
I should say up front that I love pastiche. There’s a cleverness to it that delights me, whether I get all the references or not. The ones I do understand make me smile, and in these books, they’re woven in so tightly and cleverly for the most part, that they made me really love the stories. It helped that the reader of the first one was absolutely brilliant, and despite the intricacies of the plot, he kept all the characters distinct from the narration, and really enhanced the whole experience for me.
For all the books, the setting is a classic English country house. There’s a cast of eccentric characters, a mysterious murder, spies, bounders, beautiful women, and truly ridiculous dialogue. The detective claims to be nothing of the sort, the suspects are all deeply suspicious and the solutions are on the borderline between genius and ridiculousness. But it turns out that for me, the most important thing is style of writing. If the writing sucks me in, then I’ll read on, even if the characters and plot don’t entirely work for me. And there are parts of this that are so wonderfully stylish that I just couldn’t put them down.
If you’ve any read any ‘Golden Age’ murder mysteries – or even just seen Poirot on the TV – these are characters and situations that will resonate, and at no point are we invited to take any of them remotely seriously. Some of the plot devices are lifted straight (and shamelessly) from Agatha Christie, which is great for me, as she’s the Golden Age author I know the best. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, although I can see how it might for some people.
You’re not meant to take any part of the books seriously, and I loved having a break from some of the weightier tomes I’d been reading to indulge myself a little. They are wonderfully, unapologetically light, fun and ingenious, and I’m still gutted that there are only three of them.