A Fête Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Fete Worse Than DeathFour years on from the end of the Great War and former Royal Flying Corps pilot and current crime writer Jack Haldean is visiting the local village fête. He is horrified to bump into Jeremy Boscombe, a former fellow pilot and all-round unpleasant chap. Boscombe had a habit of finding out dirt on people and utilising it for his profit – and it seems that he has some information on one of Jack’s friends.

That immediate problem is put to one side when Boscombe is shot dead while alone in the fortune-teller’s tent and his associate is killed in the local pub. It seems that a secret from the Battle of the Somme – the story of a traitor – is coming back to haunt some of Jack’s friends. And it’s a secret that someone is going to kill to keep. A secret that will take Jack back to the battlefield to find the truth.

OK, probably the last time I’ll mention the Bodies From The Library conference. Probably. Anyway, Dolores Gordon-Smith gave a great talk about Freeman Wills Crofts and, because of that, I bought this one, Dolores’ first Jack Haldean novel. Yes, I probably should have bought a Freeman Wills Croft book, but this seemed more interesting.

Well, I can’t give a comparison with Croft, but this is certainly a fun read. Definitely written with one eye on the Golden Age style, it’s a mystery that is both complex and deceptively simple – one simple unasked question would have resolved everything but it’s the sort of question that could easily be overlooked (and probably will be by the reader).

Haldean is a straightforward hero – there’s a lovely section early on where he’s trying to work out a way to get involved officially with the investigation without actually asking the police. He’s also involved on a personal level as the evidence points towards someone he cares about, he becomes determined to clear her despite no real evidence.

The final sequence is very tight and claustrophobic and the overall tale is very well-plotted. It does drag a little in the middle section – Dolores did tell me at the conference that her more recent books were shorter, so I wonder if that was an admission of this fact – but once it kicks off again, it’s a riveting read. It’s Highly Recommended and I’ll be returning to the series very soon indeed.

And yes, the accent on fête on that cover is wrong. Well spotted.


      • You’re not the only way. I refuse to read books with titles that are bad puns, especially if they include food or cats. I wonder if those titles are forced on the writers by the publishers.


      • Yeah pun titles put me off as a reader too, although weirdly when it comes to actually giving books a title, that’s where my mind always goes first. I still occasionally yearn to write a book about a stabbing in a posh 30s country house, just so I can call it LIKE A KNIFE THROUGH BUTLER.


    • I hate the term “cozy”, too. Was Agatha Christie cozy? How about “And Then There Were None”? Was Ellery Queen cozy? How about “Cat of Many Tails”? Was John Dickson Carr cozy? How about “The Burning Court”? When I hear the word “cozy”, I reach for my .44 magnum.


      • I would say that cozy is now being used as a genre of mystery – not Christie, Carr or really any from the Golden Age, although people incorrectly use the word for those – but for the lightweight mysteries mostly published in the US that involve a gimmick – e.g. The Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries – although there are UK cozies too – M C Beaton or Carola Dunn for example. If that’s not your thing, then fine, although some of those that I’ve read have been fun reads – not labyrinthine puzzlers, true, but fun little games of Guess Who?


      • I agree with the good doctor – without wishing to sideline the conversation, I tend to think of ‘cozy’ as modern books conforming to only a soft semblance of the Golden Age style.


      • That’s another pet peeve of mine: gimmicky mysteries that include recipes, are solved by cats, or involve any kind of needlecraft. If you catch me reading one of those, please put me in a nursing home.


  1. “Dolores Gordon-Smith gave a great talk about Freeman Wills Croft…”. I hope she didn’t leave the “s” off his last name.


  2. I’m so glad that you have given this a favorable review. I picked it up on impulse, but hadn’t gotten round to reading it yet. I was hoping it would be in GA style.


  3. Ah yes, the title. I don’t want to sound whiny but that was insisted on by my then agent. As it was my first book and she was a very definite sort of person, I didn’t have much choice but I thought it sounded far too ‘cozy’. All the other titles are my own choice apart from The Price of Silence which I wanted to call Deadwire. Still, the great thing is to get the book published. Arguing with the publisher rarely gets you anywhere.


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