Death And The Decorator (2022) by Simon Brett

Change needs to happen to all of us and Jude, one half of the Fethering crime-solving duo, has decided to get her cottage redecorated. Local decorator Pete is recruited – no one ever has a bad word to say about Pete, either personally or professionally – and as such, he tends to work on every project available in the area. But when Jude meets up with Pete at Footscrow House, a Victorian house being converted into holiday flats, they make a shocking discovery – a woman’s handbag hidden behind a wall panel.

The handbag belongs to Anita Garner, a woman who vanished without trace twenty years previously. Jude and her neighbour Carole are determined to find out what happened in the past, but you never know what you are going to discover…

This is the twenty-first book in the Fethering series, the tales of the many and varied mysterious deaths in the south coast town of Fethering investigated by Carole Seddon – a retired civil servant – and her neighbour, the healer Jude Nichols. And with this book, the Fethering mysteries becomes Simon’s longest running mystery series, going one ahead of the Charles Paris books.

You can see why the series has a strong following. Two chalk and cheese central characters investigating in a seemingly police-free environment full of more people than could possibly live in a small town (at least if you add up the twenty-one books). Interestingly, Brett seems to have noticed this, as in this book, certain characters from previous books – The Liar In The Library and Poisoning At The Pub – make appearances, although not as integral parts of the plot. The only regular recurring supporting character is the barman Ted Crisp, who once had a brief affair with Carole. I mention that because it comes up, along with an element of tension about it, in almost every book and it never goes anywhere. He’s not the only author guilty of slow subplots – Kate Ellis’ tale of DS Rachel Tracy’s unrequited love/lust for Wesley Peterson for example – but at least that one did move. For a long-term reader, this could really do with some motion.

As for this one, fans of the series will enjoy it, but it doesn’t play to its strengths. Carole and Jude are conducting separate strands of investigation for a good deal of the story, meaning that the chemistry of their antagonism is rationed somewhat. There are a lot of strands going on here, including the idea that elements of Fethering view Carole and Jude as interfering busybodies, both generally and specifically in this case. And you could make a case that, in this case, they might have a point.

So, not the strongest in the series, in part due to the crucial clue being a visual one – basically Carole and Jude are all-but-told what happened, which I rarely find satisfying – but as I said, fans of the series will enjoy it, and there are plenty of fun elements in it beside the more serious strands.

Death And The Decorator is out in hardback and ebook from Severn House on July 5th (no, I didn’t enter it incorrectly in my calendar, honest!). Many thanks to the publisher for the advance review e-copy.

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