The Expectant Detectives (2023) by Kat Ailes

With their first child about to arrive, Alice and Joe have decided to leave the stress of big city life and move to the countryside – the village of Penton in the Cotswolds to be precise. The first people they meet is at the local antenatal class and needless to say that involves a few other pregnant women – the relaxed Poppy, the uptight Hen and Ailsa, a member of the local commune.

The first class is disrupted by two things – first of all, Hen gives birth and while all that is going on, the proprietor of the shop the class is taking place in drops dead. Anyone – well, anyone apart from Hen who was a tad occupied – could have slipped away and poisoned the man, but who would take the risk? And why?

Alice and her new friends decide that they better get to the bottom of things – not least because, in the police’s eyes, they and their partners are the prime suspects…

Right, I saw some of you slinking away from this review. Oh no, the Doc’s back on the cosy train again, why would I want to read a book about another team of mismatched women/pregnant women/pensioners/vicars solving a murder? Well first of all, this is actually funny. Second of all, it’s a pretty decent mystery. And third of all, it’s a damn sight better than books about the pensioners or vicar.

“The Expectant Detectives: The hilarious cosy crime mystery where pregnant women turn detective.”

I really hope that title on Amazon doesn’t put people off the book. I’ll be honest, if I’d seen it there, I’d probably have been put off reading it. But I didn’t, I grabbed an advance review via NetGalley so let me take the opportunity to convince you to take a look.

The narration is all first person from Alice and her sense of humour – self-deprecating and sarcastic – really hit home with me. I especially liked the way you’re given her responses to people alongside exactly what she wanted to say but had enough self-control not to. There are some nice little running jokes along the way that are very effective and the interactions between the four leads is convincing – it’s notable that by the end of the book, they’re still not a complete foursome of bestest friends ever.

The plot is teased out nicely and there’s quite a bit going on for the reader – not as in the majority of books that I would curse with the “cosy” label. There was something I forgot to say about Martin Edwards’ Sepulchre Street, namely that there weren’t any extraneous characters – everyone contributes something important to the plot, and this is certainly the case here. I’m not convinced that it’s completely clued – one of the red herrings certainly is – but there are certainly hints at the murderer.

In another attempt to stamp out that cosy label, it’s also not afraid to take things seriously when it needs to. An early sequence has Alice’s stupid-but-adorable dog Helen eating some poison and nearly dying. [Note for #doesthedogdieinthis?, I said nearly.] I think it was this sequence that convinced me that the book was something worth my time, as the narration takes an urgent, almost panicky air, even though it’s written in the past tense. There’s also an air of tragedy about the truth of the whole thing (something which is a little undercut by the second death though) – there’s a sense sometimes that Alice’s humour is natural and sometimes a shield when things are getting serious.

All in all, this was a very pleasant surprise. Readers who are waiting the next Marlow Murder Club novel from Robert Thorogood could do an awful lot worse than taking a visit to Penton while they wait.

PS Looking forward to seeing if this is going to be a series as the leads can’t be pregnant every time they investigate a murder. Can they?

The Expectant Detectives is out on 8th June 2023 in ebook and hardback from Zaffre. Many thanks for the review copy via NetGalley.

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