Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Chorister at the Abbey by Lis Howell

Another English whodunit but this time a real cracker of a book. I don’t mean to imply that it’s face paced, just well written with good, strong, likeable characters and a plot that’s not at all transparent. It was a good read from start to finish.

Suzy Spencer is a single mother living with a man who “saved” her in a previous adventure. As they and her two children struggle to make their lives work together, a well known member of the community is found murdered in the local music college. Morris
Little was a grouchy snoop who liked preaching hellfire and brimstone to anyone and everyone as long as he thought they were listening. Still, his death makes no sense at the time since being grouchy isn’t usually grounds for murder. The police are quite happy to lay the blame at the door of two local thugs who just happen to fit the bill. However, as Suzy and her circle of friends and neighbours start to think about it all, little details that make the scenario as assumed no longer quite to likely. They start to look into the whole business a bit deeper, especially when “accidents” start to happen and the situation starts to become dangerous.

Although this is literally a mystery and is rightly sold as such, Howell does an ingenious job at integrating the lives of her characters into the novel. There are times when it feels more like an inspection into the lives of those surrounding the murder rather then a mystery which in no way detracts from the book. The forays into each character’s life are engaging and interesting, especially as Howell is so good at allowing to reader to identify with the characters and their choices. In a way it reminds me of Kate Atkinson’s “Behind the Scenes at the Museum” http://blacksheepbooks.blogspot.com/search/label/Kate%20Atkinson, although it’s not just focused on one family. Howell wanders through their lives, hinting at circumstances and events each character would like to have hidden away from the world, even though they may, or may not, have something to do with Morris Little’s murder. They are all afraid of revealing something of themselves to others because they are embarrassed or ashamed, allowing Howell to grab the reader on both the level of the mystery as well as on a human level. This also adds to the suspense of the mystery by opening up many different avenues for the reader to search for clues in.

This is a thoroughly good read for anyone who likes a good English whodunit with a touch of human soul searching in it. 5 out of 5.

Challenge: Typically British

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