Sunday, March 29, 2015

Murder Fantastical: Review

Patricia Moyes was a practitioner of the traditional English mystery with a focus on the solution and the characters rather than the crime itself and psychology of its villain.  She was dubbed early on by Vivian Mort of the Chicago Tribune  as “the writer who put the ‘who’ back in the whodunit.” Her Inspector Henry Tibbett is described as a man easily overlooked--"mild-looking, sandy-haired" and "middle-aged"--but his mild appearance allows him to follow his "nose" for clues without unduly ruffling any feathers along the way. 

However, as cozy as Moyes's stories tend to be, she occasionally makes me think of Michael Innes. Most of her plots are fairly straight-forward, traditional mysteries, but every once in a while she, like Innes in some of his more fantastic plots (see The Open House and The Weight of the Evidence), seems to take us for a ride down Alice's rabbit hole. Murder Fantastical (1967) is aptly named--for a more fantastic bunch of characters would be hard to come by. The book is worth it for the description of Bishop Manciple’s visit to a new neighbor to borrow some margarine. He arrives dressed in “an old-fashioned bathing costume... Wellington boots... carrying a flowered Japanese sunshade, a clarinet, and a string bag” while on his way to the river for a swim and a little musical practice.

The Manciples have always been known in the village of Cregwall as a very eccentric family indeed.  From Great Aunt Dora, who at ninety-plus is interested in the astral manifestations of animals, to the cryptic Edwin Manciple, clarinet-playing and crossword-loving former Bishop of Bugolaland to Major George Manciple himself who loves to take potshots on his private shooting range using a home-made clay pigeon flinger of his own design, they each have their quirks and fancies. And after one conversation with any of the Manciple clan one can't help but think that the citizens of Wonderland would feel right at home at the Manciple tea table.

Tibbett is brought into the case when Raymond Mason is shot through the forehead in the Manciple driveway. Sir John Adamson, Chief Constable, and Major Manciple both feel that the situation calls for the Yard instead of local constabulary. Mason, a social-climbing bookmaker who had recently moved into the neighborhood, had set his sights on buying the Manciple estate and when turned down flat (no matter how much money he offered for it) had begun making a nuisance of himself. He had tried to get the Major's shooting range shut down as a public nuisance; he had taken the Major to court over a long disused right-of-way; he had paid unwelcome court to Maude Manciple--the youngest and most beautiful of the family. The village, while remaining loyal to their favorite wacky family and refusing to comment directly to the police, are quite certain that the Major has accidentally shot Mason in an over-exuberant bit of shooting on his range.

Tibbett's famous nose, however, leads him to suspect that this solutions will not satisfy all the questions raised by the puzzle. His search for the truth will take him through the secret files of the British government, a letter from a long-dead physician, and a hunt for a missing book of Homer. And, although he tries to arrange a happy ending for Maude, he finds that sometimes the standard happy ending isn't what one might think.

This is a fun, humorous and very cozy take on the police procedural.  Yes, we're following Inspector Tibbett around, but the focus isn't on tracking down clues in the conventional way or gathering up evidence to send to the lab. The focus of the story is on Tibbett's interactions with the Manciples and various other characters connected with the crime. A very interesting character study and a delightful read. ★★★★

With the central character of Edwin, former Bishop of Bugolaland, this fulfills the "Involves Clergy/Religion" square on the Silver Vintage Mystery card. It also serves as a second entry for Rich's monthly Year in Mystery over at Past Offences--this month's year has been 1967.


TracyK said...

Great review, Bev. I haven't read any of Moyes' books in quite a while but I have read them all. I will be rereading at least one of them for the Read It Again, Sam challenge.

LuAnn @ BackPorchervations said...

Sounds like a good read. I'm going to have to buckle down on my bingo reading challenges to get through. Thanks for coming up with so many good ideas/reviews!

LuAnn @ BackPorchervations said...

Forgot to add that I pinned the cover to my "books worth reading" board. I didn't see share buttons so I improvised. :O)

Bev Hankins said...

LuAnn: Hope you enjoy it once you have a chance to get to it.

Anonymous said...

It has been a while since I read the Moyes books, but I recall thoroughly enjoying them - especially the ones with the Manciples (who, I believe, also play key roles in "A Six-Letter Word for Death." You may force me to put her books back on my TBRR (Re-read) pile. Sigh...a reader's work is never done... :-)

J F Norris said...

This was one of the books in my "TBR first lines" pile for the Golden Age Bingo challenge. The Rutland novel had the winner of all opening lines. I'm looking forward to reading this one in April. It'll be my first Moyes book in a very long time. I know I read some of her books when I was a teen but I can't remember anything about them, let alone which titles I read.

Bev Hankins said...

Les: I know what you mean. John has been tempting me with Colin Watson books...I read those 20-30 years ago and he reminded me how much I liked them (and how little I remember about them).

John: This one is a lot of fun! But published in it's definitely Silver.

fredamans said...

The title itself promises so much fun and mystery. Glad it didn't disappoint. Great review!