Guilt At The Garage (2020) by Simon Brett

“Watch Out. The Car Window Was Just The Start.”

When Carole Seddon’s car window is broken, it first seemed to be random vandalism, so a quick trip to the local garage, and Bill Shefford would sort it out. The idea of vandalism in Fethering would seem unlikely, but when it is clear that this was a targeted attack on Carole, things seem to be taking a sinister turn.

Of course, things get worse when Bill is found dead in the garage, crushed apparently by a falling gearbox. It could be an accident, but when Carole and her neighbour Jude begin to question a few things, it begins to look a lot like murder…

The twentieth Fethering Mystery, a regular stop in cosy-crime territory for me. Well, it’s not that cosy, as there are some distinctly nasty under-currents in this story, not least in what the villain of the piece is up to and in something else that would be a spoiler to mention. Oh, and a nasty over-current, if one can use that word, in a racist old woman. But we’ll come to her in a moment.

As a murder mystery, there’s an interesting plot idea here that isn’t that common in the genre. Obviously I can’t talk about it, but it did subvert my expectations of what was going on. I think the finale, once we realise the truth, is perhaps a little long without a final surprise – I’ve got a hunch there was something that Simon Brett was toying with that he decided not to do, as I was expecting a certain reveal in the final confrontation that never came. Admittedly, it would have been quite a silly reveal, but it never stopped Brian Flynn. If it was in his mind, I don’t blame Simon for not doing it…

The primary subplot, concerning the campaign against Carole, did seem to be heading in an obvious direction. I think it still does, despite a sharp left-turn at the end, because I didn’t really buy the twist. I’m convinced it does happen – Simon wouldn’t have included it if it didn’t – but it still felt rather unreal.

And the racist character. Hmm – maybe it’s me being sensitive, and I have been accused of that before – but I wouldn’t expect to see the racial epithet for a person of Chinese descent being used in a cosy mystery, even to emphasise the unpleasantness of the character, especially when the person the word is directed to is from Thailand. I’m sure it’s a reflection of many people in our green and pleasant land, but seeing it in print is… well, there could have been other ways to express a character’s dislike for another character.

Overall, this is a clever mystery – not unguessable by any means, as a certain character’s importance to the plot seemed stand out to me, but again, I have read a lot of mystery novels. Fans of the series will enjoy this one – twenty books in and still going strong.

Guilt At The Garage is published by Severn House and will be released in hardback and ebook on the 30th November 2020. Many thanks to Severn House and NetGalley for the review copy.

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