I hadn’t realised quite what an effect the Martha Gellhorn book had had on me till I started casting around for the next thing to read – and realised that I had a bit of a book hangover and really, really needed something in total contrast and something that would be a bit more feel-good – enter Beverley, to the rescue! “Death to Slow Music” is the third in his detective series, featuring Horatio Green, and it was the first one I actually owned – and isn’t the cover just gorgeous!

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The mystery is set in the coastal town of Seabourne, where a gruesome discovery is made in the Ghost Train on the Pier. Superintendent Waller and his faithful sidekick Bates are called down from London; and fortunately Mr. Green, accompanied by his niece Charlotte, is on hand! The murdered woman is the wife of the man in charge of the pier’s slot machines, and initially there seems to be little motive. However, there is the hint of a connection with ‘show people’ – in the form of Nigel Fleet (the Noel Coward of his age) and his musical genius Julian Doyle. Then there is Sylvia Lincoln, an ageing diva who can no longer hit the notes; Christine, a clairvoyant and amoreuse of Fleet, who cares for her slightly disturbed brother Robin; and Lord Lancing who is backing the show financially and whose main interest is Sylvia. Add in the somewhat smooth and sinister local doctor, Mickleham, and you have the recipe for a wonderful thriller!

And wonderful this certainly is! Of the three Horatio Green mysteries I’ve read so far, this is definitely the best. Nichols seemed to be getting into his stride with crime fiction and the plot is very satisfying. I only had a slight glimmer of what might be the motive, but there were a number of twists and turns, plenty of dramatic happenings and enough confusion to keep me thoroughly fuddled until the end. The characters were a beautifully varied lot, and Charlotte had a bigger role in this story than in previous ones. Once more music was of great importance to the storyline, and Mr. Green’s olfactory skills came into place as usual.

“The Regency Theatre was one of the most charming buildings in Seabourne – a light, airy structure in faded stucco, constructed in the year 1806. Its delicate facade and pillared portico had long been cherished by all students of Regency architecture. It was therefore hardly surprising that most of the members of the Seabourne Town Council were eager to demolish it at the earliest possible opportunity, in order to replace it by a block of chromium-fronted apartment houses shaped like a giant match-box.”

I know I’m very biased, but I have to say that Beverley Nichols could write about anything and make it enjoyable! His prose is as lovely as ever and even though he’s controlling his usual flights of language, some of them still slip through:

“It was two days later, and they were sitting in a corner of The Nell Gwynn Parlour at the Grand Hotel – so named, presumably, because its principal decoration consisted in a dado of diseased oranges”.

He also conjures up beautifully the atmosphere of a British seaside town in the 1950s (I couldn’t help thinking of Brighton, but it could equally well have been Bournemouth!) – the slightly seedy quality, the desperate putting together of a show and talking up so the London press will be interested, the excitement of the local press when they have a decent story on their hands. The character of Nigel Fleet is particularly well drawn, with his mastery of an audience (whether in a theatre or just in everyday life). And it’s a real delight to re-encounter the long-suffering Waller, who puts up so well with Mr. Green’s vagueness, and often has a pithy point to make:

“The cliché had the desired effect. Mr. Fothergill swallowed it, sighed and relaxed. As he took his leave, he looked comparatively calm and reassured. What would mankind do without its clichés, wondered Waller, as he listened to his footsteps shuffling away down the corridor. How would the great British public comfort itself without the knowledge that no stones were being unturned, no avenues unexplored, no efforts relaxed, no reasonable precautions ignored, and all the other argon with which those in authority concealed their incompetence? However, such thoughts were unfitting in a policeman. Besides, there were a great many stones left to turn.”

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Crime novels are my go-to when I need a relaxing, reassuring read (odd, that!) and Beverley Nichols is rapidly becoming someone I rely upon for a read I’ll enjoy. I may just have sent off for a copy of no. 4 in the series…. 🙂

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