Welcome to Aberllyn, a village in Wales, and in particular The Fisherman’s Rest, an inn that provides accommodation for those individuals who think nothing more enticing that sitting at the side of a lake (or, should the mood take them, on a boat), dangling their flies into the water on the off-chance that a passing trout or salmon should be stupid enough to put it in their mouth. You can probably tell that I’m not an angler – there’s probably more to it than that.
Needless to say, there’s a spider at the heart of the fishing community, going by the name of Mrs Mumsby, who is up to something. But before her plans can come to fruition, she is found dead, with a fish-hook buried in the palm of her hand. Everyone seems perfectly happy to accept that she died of shock from the accident, except for Mr Winkley, recently arrived from Scotland Yard for a break. He suspects murder and with the help of his younger friends (brace yourself) Piggy and Pussy, sets about finding the right bait to trap a killer…
This is the second of the three books written under the pen-name of Harriet Rutland by Olive Shimwell, the first being Knock, Murderer, Knock! and the final one being Blue Murder, all three recently re-released by Dean St Press. I loved the first one and there’s a similar set-up here are well – a small group of individuals grouped together – although there isn’t the sense of a serial killer at work here. In fact, most of the characters don’t seem to think that Mrs Mumsby died a suspicious death at all, hence going about their normal business, i.e. fishing.
I don’t think this is as strong as Knock, Murderer, Knock! for a few reasons. First off, the suspects weren’t as interesting. As with that book, we go from encounter to encounter with one or two of the suspects – either seeing conversations with Winkley or Piggy and/or Pussy – but I didn’t find them desperately distinctive, especially as the conversations have to be vague to avoid mentioning murder. As such the middle section of the narrative drags somewhat. Unlike A Bird In The Hand, where such a drag wasn’t an issue as I found the bird-watching stuff fascinating, fishing bores me rigid, so that didn’t help fill the lulls in the plot.
The other problem is the younger generation – aren’t they always? Piggy and, in particular, Pussy, are irritating as hell. There are sections, including one towards the end, where it’s not clear if Pussy’s actions are deliberate or due to genuine stupidity – unfortunately, I think it’s the latter. I’m amazed that a female writer would create such an annoying female character.
The uncertainty introduced at the end of the tale is something new to me, but I’m not sure it works. If the questions posed apply to [BEING VAGUE HERE] both things, then I’m totally confused as to what was supposed to have happened. I know that I can emulate a bear with little brain at times, but I’m honestly at a bit of a loss. It’s a brave way to end a tale, but I’m not sure it worked for me.
But there is a lot to like here. I think it pushed a lot of my buttons, unfortunately, but there are clever ideas at the heart of it and it is a proper mystery, unlike some Golden Age works. Rutland’s voice is entertaining, despite her tendency to have a pop at literary detectives (Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Sexton Blake) – she has some very distinctive turns of phrase that bring a smile to the face of the reader, for example when she describes a character’s breasts as “no larger than those of a heavyweight boxer”. In fact, she’s a bit breast-obsessed in the opening chapters, but she calms down a bit after that.
So, another decent read from a voice that was deserved to have been heard more. I personally preferred the first book, but it’s still Well Worth A Look.