This and the next few entries all continue my attempt to catch-up with books which I read during my hiatus. As such I have strayed away from my usual practice and made a few ‘author’ entries.

Simon Brett – The Body on The Beach (2000)

Simon Brett – Death on The Downs (2001)

These two books are the first in the Fethering series, and introduce us  to series characters Carole and Jude. Fethering is Brett’s third series after Charles Paris and Mrs Pargeter. Very clearly it was his intention to write a series which, unlike those previous two, was not primarily comic. This is not to say that the Fethering books are heavy, nor indeed that the Paris and Pargeter books lack their fair share of wry sociological observation. But the primary interests in the Fethering series is in the characters of Carole and Jude and their interaction; and in the particular mystery plot of each book. And herein lies the rub. Because Brett’s primary strength is precisely in comedy. If you don’t ‘get’ his comedy (and I know there are those who don’t as with all comedy, because it is such an individual taste) then you will not like the Paris/Pargeter books. I do get it and am therefore fond of them. My fondness is roughly dictated by how funny I find any particular book. I prefer Pargeter to Paris because I like the Ealing comedy feel of it (think The Lavender Hill Mob for example) and of the Pargeter books I like the first (A Nice Class of Corpse) the best because I find it the funniest (there is a conversation of misunderstanding about rude postcards which never fails to make me laugh out loud).

Well in the Fethering books there is much less overt comedy. This means, as I have observed, that the books depend in the first place on the characters of Carole and Jude, and the former primarily, and in the second on the quality of the plotting. Now  frankly I find Jude, a sort of superannuated hippy, somewhat annoying and of little interest. Carole, a highly respectable retired civil servant, is much more fascinating and carries these early books. As the series progresses however her character is not really developed. Brett is capable of creating interesting characters but in-depth psychological development is not his metier. This is important because he is not really an outstanding plotter either. That is not to say that the individual plots are below average or inadequate, but there is no real brilliance about them; no true shocks and surprises. Once again one has to say that it is not in plotting that Brett’s real talent lies.

I realise that I sound overly negative about these two books. They are both enjoyable, well-written, pleasant reading and there is a great deal to be said for that. But Brett’s true strengths lie elsewhere, and in my view to sample him at his best one should try the Paris or, better still, Pargeter series.