This past week I finished the first novel in the Mrs. Pargeter mystery series by Simon Brett. A Nice Class of Corpse was published in 1986. There are, currently, six novels in the series – the most recent having been released in 1999. A year later, Brett became the president of the famous Detection Club.
Overall, this is probably a 3.5 star rated novel. It is not a 4, so for this blog it is a 3. It is a very speedy 221 pages of relatively cozy-mystery. I say relatively because there are some elements that probably go beyond what mystery readers consider “cozy.” (For the record, some of these subgenre distinctions are a bit ambiguous, anyway.) You should know that the majority of this story takes place within the Devereux Hotel – which strives to be an upscale retirement community for the rich and/or titled elderly. Therefore, almost all of the characters are quite old. Old people get killed off in this novel. Some readers might not find that so “cozy.”
There is also a helping of melancholy in this story. There are some sad and uncomfortable moments throughout the novel. This adds just a drop of depth to the novel and makes the story heavier than a simple mystery. Whether that is good or bad is for each reader to decide for himself, I think. There are also some ridiculous and witty moments – most of them due to the star character: Melita Pargeter.
We are introduced to this spunky elderly lady as she is moving into her new residence at the Devereux Hotel in seaside Littlehampton. Her arrival causes some commotion because she does not follow the expected behaviors typified by solemn, droll, and sedate “upper class” worthies. Immediately, Pargeter banters and shows her independence and spunk. The other characters react in a variety of ways to this. Brett does a very good job of describing the social sphere and the interactions of the characters. He is an “observant” writer, even if he leans just slightly on the ridiculous.
Brett lets us meet the characters, though I am not sure we have access to every one of the clues. He does provide a number of red herrings and false clues that should throw the reader once or twice. I never guessed correctly, so the ending got me!
Soon after Mrs. Pargeter’s arrival – a death occurs. Mrs. Pargeter, while surfing the variety of entanglements in this closed community, also decides to do a little investigation on her own. She is incredibly unobtrusive and does not always completely share her “deductions” with the reader. Nevertheless, it is interesting to watch her patiently bide her time as she fits clues together. Maybe she is a little too patient, though?
Through the course of these efforts, we also learn that Mrs. Pargeter and her late husband have lived quite unusual atypical lives. Without my spoiling anything here, let me just say that we are not actually told a lot of detail about these things; Brett develops this subplot slowly and with some “mystery.” Nevertheless, this subplot might be more interesting than the actual plotline of the novel? This Pargeter couple is definitely unique and interesting and may be the sole reason I really want to read book two in the series.
Due to this being rather unique and my preference for mysteries that take place in one building, I felt this could be four stars. Still, this is only a quick mystery novel and I am not convinced readers were given all the clues. The ending to this story was very well done – a bit somber, a bit surprising. I think most general readers and mystery readers will enjoy this one.