This multi-narrator story looks at the events which first lead up to the murder of Philippa Langdon-Miles, headmistress of an all-girl boarding school and then the later death of her sister, Mrs Beatrice Warburton. The task of narrating the story mostly falls into the hands of Sophie Coppock, the school secretary who has her own near death experience and Adam Muir, the lawyer of Mrs Soutar, the owner of the remote Northumbrian hotel where Beatrice dies. Consequently in a way this does feel like two separate mystery stories which are fused together with overlapping characters, a feeling which is reinforced by the very different types of narrator, as well as locations. Occurring around these deaths are a number of peculiar and baffling events, including the mysterious Mr Pym, who has been making friends with some of the pupils at Miles’ school and Beatrice’s sudden marriage to an Australian musician, (which far from impresses Philippa). Furthermore it is only when events shift to the Northumbrian location that we finally meet private detective, Lysander Stone.
To be honest I feel this is a bit of a marmite book and a perplexing sort of marmite at that. Player is good at creating very distinctive and lifelike narrative voices, but I wonder if he is a little too good. Take Sophie Coppock for instance, who narrates most of the first 141 pages. She is an incredibly insular character, making the academics in Sayers’ Gaudy Night appear worldly. Due to this insular nature her manner of depicting events and people is highly effected and not necessarily in a good way. Her blinkered devotion to Miles can get wearing, as can her enormous sense of propriety and snobbery. Yet on the other hand you can find her a bit more sympathetic when she gets stuck going on a walking holiday with someone and she is faced with the nightmare of a tent. At such a moment I found her more endearing, though that might be due to my own disinclination towards camping.
As with some other books I have read this year, Player’s novel seems to have a deceptively simple plot to it, which even I could solve relatively quickly, but then bam! Player flips everything upside down and gives you an astounding solution. But there is a but here unfortunately. This should all be a good thing, yet I feel Player’s execution lets the whole premise down. Firstly this is because the book is too long. Lopping 80 or so pages off this story bare minimum would have really helped, as by the time you get to the moment where the rug is pulled from under your feet, interest levels are decidedly low. Equally the explanation to the mysteries is far too long and quite frankly troubling in some respects, leaving you both worn out by the length of it, but also faintly discomforted. In particular there is a late arrival character who the reader should side with, given their ability to see what is going on and not miss the blindingly obvious like everyone else, yet again there are various factors which will probably put the reader off them. I guess I just like someone I can root for or side with.
I have been rather critical to say the least and I feel this is a shame. After all there is a lot of good character work and Muir makes for a good second main narrator, presenting other people in a succinct, yet effective fashion. Equally I also love Mrs Soutar who is quite a character, controlling her hotel from her bedroom. There is even a very sneaky sentence half way through the book which has you kicking yourself later on. But I think what this story has highlighted to me is the following conundrum: If a book stretches a deceptively simple plot over too long a page span, causing a poorer reading experience due to bad pacing, before throwing in the mind-blowing-ly good twist, should this prior deficiency be forgiven for the finale? I’m in two minds about the whole thing, though my rating probably hints at which may I am leaning.
Consequently I don’t really know whether I should recommend this book or not. The solution is clever and relatively well hidden in most aspects. Equally the social commentary it provides and the characters it includes will captivate some readers that I know. Yet for all that I also know with the pacing issues it has, it might be a less than appealing read for others. If anyone else has read this book it would be great to hear other viewpoints on the book.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Item): Cigarette