Welcome to another Mondays are for Murder feature. I feel I must apologise for perhaps leading some of you up the garden path. You see I mentioned in my last MafM feature that I would be featuring Dorothy L. Sayers work this time around. Well, I did try. I picked up Whose Body? and tried to wade through it alongside Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know whether it was the writing, the character or my mood at the time (or a combination of all three) but I quickly tired of Lord Peter (who, let’s face it, is no Poirot or Marple) and made an executive decision to move on. Sorry.
So instead, today I have the first in Ian Sansom’s “County Guides” series, The Norfolk Mystery. I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and I finally found it at our new library so was spared the expense of buying it. Which turned out to be quite a spectacular turn of good luck, as you will discover. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
In The Norfolk Mystery, the first in the County Guides series, we meet Swanton Morley. Eccentric, autodidact – the ‘People’s Professor.’ Morley plans to write a series of guides to the counties of England. He employs a young assistant, Stephen Sefton, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and together with Morley’s daughter, Miriam, they set off through Norfolk, where their sightseeing tour quickly turns into a murder investigation.
As Morley confronts the conventions of class, education and politics in 1930s England, as Sefton flees his memories of the war, and as Miriam seeks romance, join them on their first adventure into the dark heart of England. When Morley’s map leads to mystery, no one is above suspicion!
I feel I should shed more light on the above blurb by mentioning that on arrival in their first port-of-call in Norfolk, to peruse a church of some significance, Sefton and Morley are greeted by a duo of upset ladies and are shown to the rectory, in which hangs the lifeless body of the village vicar. I’m not entirely sure why the blurb is so obtuse about the central plot point, but consider yourself enlightened.
The Usual Suspects:
For all intents and purposes, the vicar’s death appears to be a suicide so until Morley mentions the possibility of murder, nobody had actually considered it. Immediately upon mentioning murder, Morley and Sefton become chief suspects, being strangers who have conveniently turned up out of nowhere and happen to have stumbled upon a not-very-suspicious death. When Morley and Sefton take up the potential case however, a host of village regulars come into play – the odious local professor, the village doctor, and various wives and barfolk who wish to keep themselves to themselves.
The Hunt for the Murderer/s:
Again, since there is no official cause to suspect that the vicar’s death is murder, the investigation is kept somewhat on the down-low by Morley and Sefton, who conduct their interrogations through the veil of polite inquiry and socially-sanctioned conversation. Suffice to say, this is one murder-mystery the likes of which I have never encountered.
Two poison bottles for an abundance of unnecessary confusion and delay
In detailing some important point during the investigation, Morley notes that for most suicides, if one were to detail one’s thought processes, one might say “I would not have committed suicide, but for (insert situation here)”. For example, “I would not have committed suicide, but for the fact that I went bankrupt” or whatever. I feel it is appropriate to comment in the same vein on my enjoyment of this book. So here goes:
I would have enjoyed this book, but for the inclusion of Morley himself, as I found him possibly the most distracting, annoying and generally convoluting character I have ever encountered, and would have enjoyed nothing more than to poke him with great force in his flabby underbelly with a sharpened fork.
If you are familiar with British sitcoms of the early 1990s, you will gain a fuller understanding of the character of Morley should I compare him to one Gordon Brittas, from the BBC’s The Brittas Empire. Only Morley is considerably more intelligent than Mr Brittas. If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned program, allow me to elaborate. Morley is so verbose as to derail, it seems, even the author in his attempts to keep the plot following a reasonably efficient tack. He is a well-intentioned character, but his entire reason for being appears to involve distracting, deflecting and otherwise drawing away the attention of the reader (and the poor, suffering Sefton) from the situation at hand. In my opinion, what this book really needed was this, courtesy of Monty Python:
I had great hopes for this series, but as Morley has annoyed me so greatly I will not be continuing on and will leave Sefton to suffer in silence. I will however, still have a go at the Mobile Library series written by Sansom, because I enjoyed his writing style, if not his main character. I’d love to know what others have thought of this series if there are any among you who have read it though.
Until next time,