Suzette A Hill – Bone Idle (2009)

(an unused rte review)

BONE IDLE is one of those books where it would be misleading to start with the traditional plot summary. This is due to the fact that in the first place there is very little plot to speak of, but more importantly plot is certainly not the most important feature. The book is the third in a series featuring the Reverend Francis Oughterand, vicar of the Surrey village of Molehill, set sometime in the fifties I would imagine (I am not very ‘up’ in the period details to which Hill refers). However, the distinctive feature of the series is that the narrative is shared between the Vicar himself, his cat Maurice and his dog Bouncer. So every chapter is entitled either ‘The Vicar’s Version’, ‘The Dog’s Diary’ or ‘The Cat’s Memoir’.

Now admittedly it is ‘The Vicar’s Version’ which predominates but even so I would imagine that many readers of this review will have already decided either that this book, and series, are most definitely not for them, or on the other hand that this is something they would like to investigate. Personally I would incline towards the former camp but in the interest of fair reviewing ploughed ahead. And the first thing to be said is that Hill does, just about, manage the extremely difficult feat of writing these animal narratives without ever becoming twee or annoying. This is certainly a considerable accomplishment. Added to that the trials and tribulations of Francis Oughterand and his observations on Church life certainly make for occasionally amusing reading.

The book’s entire plot – indeed the entire series’ plots – all seems to stem from the fact (which is revealed on the first page so I am not spoiling anything) that in the first book Oughterand murdered an especially annoying parishioner called Elizabeth Fotherington. To help elude the clutches of the police he was forced to involve a shady acquaintance called Nicholas Ingaza, who is now, therefore, in a position to blackmail Oughterand into taking part in his own nefarious schemes, one of which occupied the second book and here involves the substitution of a valuable ‘Prancing Pig’ piece of Indian origin. It is no co-incidence that this plot has as much to do with Wodehouse as any mystery writer. However, Oughterand has several other problems including being pursued by the daughter and son-in-law of Elizabeth Fotherington who ironically left her money to her murderer. Oughterand also has to assist his Bishop, Clinker, in finding venues to practice his secret vice of tiddlywinks. Even when someone is murdered Oughterand himself makes no effort at detection and spends his time attempting to evade other’s demands that he join their schemes.

All this is pleasant enough – certainly the book is well-written and highly readable provided you are a reader who is not allergic to books in part narrated by pets. But there is a central problem in that one cannot really describe this as a comic mystery because there is virtually no mystery at all. The murderer is patently obvious (I did wonder if it could be that patently obvious but there is no double bluff here) and there is very little suspense. Given these facts the only way to assess this book as a mystery, of any kind (which is what I am meant to do), is that it is mainly for those who will enjoy animal narratives; as an example of the latter it is certainly a very fine specimen and I suppose it can be argued that there are not that many specimens of any kind around (for which I am sure some will be heartily grateful while other may bemoan the fact – at least the book cannot be accused of being a Dan Brown clone).