Mrs, Presumed Dead by Simon Brett (b. 1945) is the second in the Melita Pargeter series of novels. This one was first published in 1988. I read the first novel in the series years ago in 2015. I think these novels (or most of them) are out of print, so until they are reprinted (or not) I am keeping these on the shelf for other readers who need a copy (my specific copy is February 1990 printing).
I cannot honestly call the Pargeter series a cozy mystery series, since there are elements in the books that are not so cozy at all. Cozy/innocent – whatever it is that makes the lightest mystery novels so warm and sweet. There are elements of Pargeter novels that sometimes come across as critical of society, shuffling morality in a sort of very-English Mill/Bentham way at times, and some sordid moments. Nevertheless, this was an easy-reading novel that was good for a light off-day. Just something to occupy the mugs of tea and the chilly temperatures outdoors. This is a no-stress read.
The main character, amateur sleuth Melita Pargeter has relocated to a very small cul-de-sac style upper class semi-rural development. I enjoyed Brett’s addition of explaining the detail of how/why the development had the name it had. She has purchased a large house in this rather Yuppie community and has moved into the home and found the social structure of the close a bit challenging. I wanted to hear more about Pargeter’s designing and decorating and setting up her new house. It would have given a bit more insight into Melita herself – how one organizes one’s living space is very telling about that person’s psychology and activities.
I think the first novel was a bit better in a few respects. My main complaint is that the author was not as smooth and engaging with his main character’s conversations this time. Mrs. Pargeter in this novel was nearly KGB-interrogator at times. I know she is a shrewd and witty old bird, but I think she would also be a bit more subtle than a sledgehammer. I mean, she just moved into the neighborhood and she really is laser-pointer-focused on the murder investigation. I would think that even the most uppity, yuppie, self-centered people of that neighborhood would notice that Pargeter was so dogged in her conversation.
“I’m not so sure,” said Mrs. Pargeter. “You don’t know what people are like in Smithy’s Loam.” – pg. 222
The other complaint I had was that we are very repeatedly told that Pargeter’s deceased husband had left her a lot of resources. I mean, once or twice is reasonable – but we are reminded quite a lot. And after awhile, I felt the need to grab the author by his ear and ask if he really felt me so stupid that in a 240 page novel he needed to remind me of this constantly.
I did not guess who did it. I never do, though. I am utterly horrible at mystery novels/television. Its always a surprise for me. Now, I know more astute readers might scoff and tease me about this, but I would remind them that I get full enjoyment out of the books, whereas they are too busy reading stories they have already figured out. Anyway, it makes sense who the criminal was – which is very key in a mystery novel. I want a solid and satisfying resolution not one that feels forced or that it could have just as easily been answered differently. As Pargeter says in that late chapter:
“No, I’ve worked it out now. I should have realised before.” – pg. 238
So, the ending worked out all right, which I like. There were, of course, several points in which Brett could have spiralled this story some other way. Lots of plausible guilty parties with plenty of motive. But I like that Brett has Pargeter tell us:
For a start, she had a strong prejudice against murders committed by people who were mad. She had always disliked them in crime fiction and didn’t care for them much in real life. Madness was so vague, so woolly. Any motivation and logic could be ascribed to someone who was mad. At the end of a crime book in which a madman dunnit, Mrs. Pargeter always felt cheated and annoyed. – pg. 211
Well, don’t worry, Melita in this one there is no such cheap and flimsy ending.
Recommended for readers needing an easy-read, day-read. Enjoyable to a point without any major complaints. Pargeter is a thoughtful woman in many ways. I will likely, eventually, read the next in the series.