Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Fete Worse Than Death

  A Fete Worse Than Death (2007) by Dolores Gordon-Smith

In 1922, Jack Haldean is staying with his aunt and uncle in Breedonbrook and attends the local fete. It's a lovely day filled with games (the coconut shy, darts and hoop-la) where he wins everything from coconuts to violently colored candies to a dolly with carrier, blanket, and pillow. He's also trying desperately to avoid a man who served under him in the RAF. Jeremy Boscombe is an annoying little tick who has always loved finding out people's weak spots and leaning on them hard. 

Apparently he leaned too hard on the wrong person because he's later found shot to death in the fortune teller's tent. Haldean is a detective novelist who has also had a bit of real-life detective experience--solving a little matter of the "mess bill business" while still in the service and then helping Inspector Rackham of Scotland Yard with "the affair at Torrington Place" after the war. He offers to help Superintendent Ashley with this latest local case and they've barely begun to investigate when Reggie Morton (soon proved to be an unsavory friend of Boscombe's) is found in Boscombe's room at the local inn--also shot to death. They uncover signs of blackmail and indications that the motive for the murders may be linked to the battle of Augier Ridge. 

The battle was the source of Victory Cross for Colonel Whitfield, local hero and hopeful suitor to Marguerite Vayle. Jack's uncle is one of Marguerite's trustees and, along with Hugh Lawrence the other trustee, must give approval for her marriage. The battle was also the source of treachery--someone had been spying for the Germans and betrayed the British troops when they discovered a tunnel under the ridge. The blame always fell on Major Tyburn who has been assumed dead. But now there are rumors that Tyburn is still alive. Did Boscombe (one of the few survivors of Augier Ridge) recognize him in the crowd that day and decide on a spot of blackmail? Or was he putting the black on someone else? There are several suspects to choose from and Haldean and Ashley will find their suspicions resting on various people before they discover the real culprit.

This is a lovely first mystery in a historical series that captures the spirit of the Golden Age of crime in every way possible--from the amateur sleuth who gives vibes of Lord Peter Wimsey to the village fete to a nice little circle of suspects, all wrapped up in a well-clued puzzle. Very entertaining with deftly sketched characters and a great setting. I'm definitely looking forward to the next in the series. ★★★★

First line: With a feeling of relief, Jack Haldean walked into the dim green interior of the beer tent.

Last line: "But here's to the pilot."
Deaths = 6 (three shot; three natural)

1 comment:

Marg said...

The title of this one definitely caught my attention!!

Thanks for sharing this review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge