Book review: G.M. Malliet’s The Haunted Season

As you know, I’ve been avidly reading my way through the pile of books that I happened upon thanks to my building’s internal facebook-group-of-sharing-all-the-things. This was book three of this haul, and I’ve read another two and a bit of the remaining ones. This book, as I found shortly into the first chapter, is actually the fifth in a series (yes, I flipped it over and saw the back cover, which told me it was not the first… “the handsome vicar’s talent for sorting through clues to solve a murder is once again called into play”.)

Cover ruthlessly stolen off Amazon, as per usual.

So, half a chapter committed to this new story, I had a moment of doubting whether to continue or whether to find book one, but on realising that this was largely an activity in reading what was available, I dug in and got going.

Non-spoilery synopsis

The book tells the story of a dishy vicar (#keepingupappearancesreferences) who lives in a small town that seems to be beset (unfortunately) by murders. Thankfully only one per book, but it draws a bit of an eyebrow-raise from his local bishop, to say the least. The main character, Reverend Max Tudor, seems to live an interesting small-town life that bears witness to several previous books’ worth of dramatic conflict (falling in love with the local New Age shop owner, etc.) The town is full of some stereotyped characters who are officious at parish council meetings, or are eccentric and extremely wealthy. When the local lord of the manor is found murdered, Max and his friend, Detective Cotton have to figure out who would have the motive to do such a terrible thing. They eventually pull the pieces together of some family drama, wrap the plot, and avert a last-minute crisis in Max’s church.

Cozy mysteries and their challenges

So, this book is pretty solidly in the cozy mystery category. I read it with interest, having actually read very few that didn’t feature Poirot or Marple. What I felt while reading it was that it tended a little towards a pastiche of typical mystery tropes and the Vicar of Dibley – down to the personages on the parish council and the unusual vicar (this one having spent some time in MI5). I looked up the author some way into the book, because it gave me an odd impression of writing an imagined version of England. “Baaden-Boomthistle” as a surname is a bit too far a reach for even the lord and lady of the manor, and everything was just a little too… post-cardy. I found she’s American, but spent some time in the UK at Oxford. Aha! This made sense to me, because I have previously tried to write (plotted and nearly started) a similar book, taking place in a small English village somewhere (such a good setting), except I felt like I didn’t really know enough about the workings of the setting and its people to get into it. I would have been writing what I didn’t know. And, while I think it is quite an enjoyable story, I get the same feeling from this book too.

The denouement that is such an important part of a mystery novel lacked some clarity for me; I ended up going back a chapter to re-read because I thought I’d missed something. After this, the last few pages of the book featured further dramatic tension and action, which I read as a possible other ending – it could have been the climax of an entirely separate book, and didn’t seem to connect to the main plot line at all. I understand that subplot exists, but I sorta didn’t feel it gelled well as a subplot either.

I may just be being horribly picky, because after all, I read it and enjoyed it – even if I got a bit confused towards the end.

Worth it?

Yeah, sure. Kind of fun, lots of escapism. I feel like it would make pretty good bad TV if that makes sense – another small town murder series, but a light-hearted one. As I said, the novel has some things that give me pause as a writer, and the last few chapters feel confusing, but if I were to find books 1-4 in the library, I’d read ’em. The characterisation is good, the escapism is fun, and that’s the whole point with this type of book, isn’t it?

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