Sometimes murder can be dead funny…
Take a large helping of Midsomer Murders, a pinch of Agatha Christie, and a soupçon of The Vicar of Dibley, and you get the wonderful Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death, a murderously amusing melee of killings, cadavers, repartee, romance, and good old-fashioned detective work.
READ MORE book reviews here
This masterclass in gallows humour and crime mystery writing comes from M.B. Vincent, a husband and wife writing team which normally functions as ‘she’ penning romantic fiction and ‘he’ composing songs and TV theme tunes.
And what a rip-roaring romp this is! Set against the backdrop of a chocolate box West Country town, the wickedly titled Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death has all the ingredients of a classic crime caper – a list of suspects as long as your arm, gruesome murders, a knee-high body count and a wacky bunch of locals – and all served up at breakneck speed.
Castle Kidbury is a picturesque town in a green West Country valley. It has a town square and a proper butcher’s shop, and is home to all sorts of people, with all the stresses and joys of modern life.
And returning to charming Harebell House, ‘a labyrinth of genteel good taste’ and a place where ‘it always felt like Sunday,’ is Jess Castle who is running away… again. This time she is fleeing from her high-flying but tedious job at Cambridge University, and dreading the reception she will receive from her forbidding father, Judge James Castle.
But things are happening in Castle Kidbury, shocking things that shouldn’t happen in such a beautiful little town. A local man has been found crucified, his eyes removed and his face ‘frozen in an agonising scream,’ on Gold Hill, and it’s just the first of a spate of similar deaths.
The police, led by the traditional, by-the-book copper DS John Eden, suspect that the murderer could belong to the ‘New-Age poseurs’ who are currently camped out on the edge of town. But what clues the police have lead Jess, an expert in paganism, to believe the hippyish cult is not responsible.
When she infiltrates the cult and manages, not for the first time, to get herself arrested, her father despairs of her and Rupert Lawson, a schooldays crush who is now a respected barrister, is called in to bail her out.
Soon Jess has roped in a reluctant Rupert as she gatecrashes DS Eden’s murder investigation but even the experienced policeman has to admit that intuitive, eccentric, well-educated Jess has the nose of a detective.
As the gory murders pile up, there seems to be nothing to connect the victims and yet, as Jess discovers, the clues are there if you just look hard enough.
M.B. Vincent plays a blinder with this wonderfully entertaining and original whodunit which delivers an extraordinary comedy wrapped up in an intriguing murder mystery and a surprisingly tense family drama.
Almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, occasionally heart-in-mouth and frequently laugh-out-loud, Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death is English humour at its best… darkly ironic, filled with earthy fun, and all orchestrated by a modern day Miss Marple with a fine line in wit.
It’s to be hoped this top team are to make a return trip to the unforgettable Castle Kidbury!
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)