Friday, March 17, 2017

Miss Christie Regrets: Review

In Miss Christie Regrets (2017) Guy Fraser-Sampson not only invokes the Queen of Crime with his title and a thread of investigation, but he manages an adroit bit of sleight-of-hand with a vital piece of cluing that would make Dame Agatha very proud indeed. This is the second novel in the Hampstead Murders series which makes great use of Golden Age detection--tropes as well as character and author references--but incorporates it all into contemporary settings and modern detection.

Miss Christie Regrets find Superintendent Simon Collison back in Hampstead. His career has been fast-tracked by his superiors, who would now like to see him jump into a Chief Superintendent's position at the Crime Academy. But Collison prefers action and investigation and would really like to get a bit more practical experience under his belt before moving any further up the ladder. After all, how can he possibly oversee Inspectors and Superintendents or oversee the training of future detectives if he has little field experience himself. So, he manages a compromise--he's to be a sort of roving reserve SIO (Senior Investigating Officer) and he asks for the next case to come along in Hampstead.

Hampstead has just had a murder, in fact. Inspector Tom Allen and his team are faced with death in a small local museum called Burgh House. Peter Howse, the manager who incidentally lived in the house before it was given over to the National Trust for use as museum, has been killed with the standard blunt instrument.--well, perhaps, not quite standard since it is a 1930s-style police truncheon. The house currently has a prominent exhibition of Constables and the truncheon (and other items) was in the process of being catalogued by Howse for a future exhibit.

Detective Sergeant Karen Willis and her beau Peter Collins are visiting the Constable exhibit when a police constable comes in to tell them there has been "a serious incident" and they won't be allowed to leave any time soon. Willis has been on leave, but immediately produces her identification and helps secure the scene until Allen and the rest of the team arrive. One would think having a detective on the spot would make solving this case easier...but as the investigation moves along it becomes apparent that it is going to be difficult to find evidence to bring the murder home to the perpetrator. Despite rules to the contrary, no one was manning the reception desk for several hours (all of which cover the crucial times) and anyone could have been the third set of footsteps heard by one of museum's "inhabitants" (a professor who has an office there). It could have been one of the husband and wife team who helps take care of the place or it could have been just about anyone who walked in off the street.

Meanwhile, another victim is found at a second iconic Hampstead location--the Isokon Building (Lawn Road Flats to modern folks) site of lodgings which were used for refugees during World War II and a one-time residence of Agatha Christie. This victim is decades old, possibly from the mid- to late-1930s. Collison is given charge of this case and, by chance, learns that the Isokon Building was the proposed subject of the upcoming exhibit at Burgh House. Further connections are forthcoming and Collison becomes convinced that these are not mere coincidences. Is it possible that solving a decades-old murder could also solve the murder of Peter Howse? Dame Agatha Christie just might hold the answer to that one...

I enjoyed Fraser-Sampson's first novel in the Hampstead Series (Death in Profile) very much. It was an excellent introduction to both the series and the series characters as well as a tribute to Golden Age detection in general and Dorothy L. Sayers in particular. When the title for this second one became known, it was obvious that this time a treat was in store for Agatha Christie fans. I was most eager to discover how he was going to tie Christie into a modern day mystery without forcing the issue. I'm happy to report that he has done the job in a very ingenious and believable manner. And, as mentioned above, I applaud him on his Agatha-like ability to parade a necessary clue around before this reader's eyes without my taking notice of it all. least not taking notice of it in a way that was at all helpful to putting the pieces together. A pleasing mystery with enough possible suspects to keep you guessing.

I was also pleased to see the progression of the characters and to see that Fraser-Sampson has built on the first novel--none of my minor quibbles listed in that review were present. I have thoroughly enjoyed this installment and am looking forward to the next. ★★★★ and a half (mostly because I want to leave room in case the next one is even more spectacular).

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

I'm intrigued by this one, have been wondering whether to read it. Thanks for a helpful review...