This is the 7th comic crime novel in the Francis Oughterard series, (despite this character no longer appearing in the series since book 6, The Primrose Pursuit (2016)). However, the two most important reoccurring characters are still present; the savvy and sharp cat Maurice and his love-hate companion, the loyal, but often boneheaded, canine Bouncer, who are residing with Francis’ sister, Primrose.
This series commences with an inverted mystery in which Francis murders an over amorous parishioner; a crime he is never arrested for due to his dedicated pets. The books following on from this chart the consequences of that initial misdeed, with blackmail and theft following in its wake. Deadly Primrose, is therefore quite unusual in its shift in focus to Primrose donning the amateur sleuth role, in a minor way, when Elspeth Travers drowns in the sea near Birling Gap. It is Primrose’s knowledge of the victim that makes her think this is more than an accident. After all Elspeth abhorred swimming, the cold and loud swimming apparel. So why was she swimming in the first place? And at such a dangerous stretch of the coast?
In keeping with other books in the series this story is told through many different character perspectives. Sometimes it is from the point of view of Maurice and Bouncer, whilst at other times events are seen from angle of local inhabitants, including one who writes letters to their sister. In the main though, our primary narrator is Primrose herself and I would say this is a narrative structure Hill is very comfortable adopting. One of the things I like about her use of multiple narrators is how their different perspectives layer over the top of previous accounts, meaning there is a connection with the previous narrative but then the current narrator also moves the plot along. The only thing I take issue with, regarding this aspect of the book, is that Maurice and Bouncer have lost their primacy in the plot. In contrast to their opening tales where their actions were paramount in their influence on events, their sections in the book are now fewer and they pretty much act as commentators rather than as actual participants in the plot. I felt this was somewhat of a shame.
This niggle also leaks into another aspect of the book which is its inverted mystery trait. Again, this is a feature previously encountered in the series, but once more I think it has been used more effectively in these prior novels. The inverted mystery thread is a dual one and does not commence until halfway through the book. Yet unfortunately it comes across as rather forced in the way that the malefactors just blurt out their wrongdoings to Primrose for very little good reason. These incidents equally don’t add to the plot, which I felt was less intricate than Hill’s earlier books and on the whole contained less action. A second death temporarily picks up the pace of the plot, but it soon dissipates once more. Did the long gap between this book and the previous one contribute to this problem, I wonder? This is a pity as I feel Hill is good at crafting an unorthodox universe when it comes to morality and immorality. Good and bad get somewhat blurred giving faint echoes of the worlds Pamela Branch created in her own work.
This series is set in the 1950s, though embarrassingly I forgot about this element when starting this book. In my previous reviews I do mention it, but I was genuinely surprised when I noticed that this latest book was set in 1958. If you examine this story closely you can pick out that it is not set in modern times, but if you’re reading quite fast it is not that hard to miss this point. I don’t think the time period is that strongly felt in the narrative, though Pepsi is referred to as a new beverage.
So, whilst the characters I have grown fond of are still of interest to me, I think I found the plot of this title somewhat wanting. If this is the direction the books are heading in, for this series, I am wondering whether I wish to continue following the exploits of Maurice and Bouncer. On that note with two other series written by modern day writers I have also noticed how earlier books are more strongly plotted, yet the subsequent titles invariably lose this quality and in some cases descend into an unaccountable thriller, wherein you have to accept last minute inspiration. I appreciate that it is harder work to achieve the former, but I am increasingly becoming less satisfied with the latter product.