Wednesday, July 6, 2016

WICKED AUTUMN, first Max Tudor mystery with room to improve

Max Tudor #1
Minotaur Books
$15.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.125* of five

The Publisher Says: What could be more dangerous than cozy village life in the English countryside?

Max Tudor has adapted well to his post as vicar of St. Edwold's in the idyllic village of Nether Monkslip. The quiet village seems the perfect home for Max, who has fled a harrowing past as an MI5 agent. Now he has found a measure of peace among urban escapees and yoga practitioners, artists and crafters and New Agers. But this new-found serenity is quickly shattered when the highly vocal and unpopular president of the Women's Institute turns up dead at the Harvest Fayre. The death looks like an accident, but Max's training as a former agent kicks in, and before long he suspects foul play.

Max has ministered to the community long enough to be familiar with the tangled alliances and animosities among the residents, but this tragedy surprises and confounds him. It is impossible to believe anyone in his lovely village capable of the crime, and yet given the victim, he must acknowledge that almost everyone had probably fantasized about killing Wanda Batton-Smythe.

As the investigation unfolds, Max becomes more intricately involved. Memories he'd rather not revisit are stirred, evoking the demons from the past which led him to Nether Monkslip. In 'Wicked Autumn', G.M. Malliet serves up an irresistible English village - deliciously skewered - a flawed but likeable protagonist, and a brilliantly modern version of the traditional drawing room mystery.

My Review: Sexy, haunted Maxen "Max" Tudor, former MI5 (domestic spying branch, think FBI not CIA, which any Bond fan knows is MI6) superagent and present-day Anglican priest and vicar of Nether Monkslip, revels in his obscure village's somewhat habitual somnolence, broken only by tempests in the teapot of the Women's Institute {think Junior League}. It's run ruthlessly by one Wanda Barton-Smythe, a harpy with no discernable good qualities except a fatal peanut allergy. Her murder unburies secrets and lies, causes no end of trouble for the allegedly retired Max because {naturally} the cops of Monkslip-super-Mare, the big town in the area, discover his past and rope him into the investigation. Who suspects the Vicar of working with the police, after all?

The village cast of crazies all walk through their days with Max, all spent at the Harvest Festival so ably and unpleasantly organised {oh dear, the Britishness of it all hath infected me} by the late Mrs. Barton-Smythe {B-S, get it? Know what I mean? She's a goer!...aaarrrggghhh it's happening again!}, only, well...let's be charitable towards all and say they're forgetful and leave out some details. Well, a LOT of details. Not all of them innocent.

Max solves the crime, brings the murdering swine to justice, and fills us in on his backstory by flashing back to the reason he decided to become a priest in the first place. He doesn't appear to be a pedophile, which is a nice change of pace. Wait, that's the Catholics...well, anyway, let's just go with the fact that his reasons for doing what he does now will either make you like him more, or strike you as silly. {I'm in Camp B.} He's given a couple of love interests, one of whom he clearly favors over the other, and the village is gifted with the usual suspects for a cozy Brit-stery: Nosy old schoolmarm, shop-lady with a troubled past, doctor who's better than he should be for such a small place, and so forth. Fans of cozy Brit-steries are urged to pre-order. It will fulfill your expectations ably.

My expectations, not so much. Competently written and plotted, the book misses out on every opportunity to surprise or jolt or do more than atmosphere-ize the deeply experienced cozy reader. Nether Monkslip is one of those towns that will, like Lumby, Washington, and its American cousins, always seem wrapped in a dense fog of Atmosphere and Sense of Place. That's fine, I want that, and even expect it from this genre; but PLEASE give me more than just that! St. Mary Mead, Miss Marple's homeplace, was a lot moer than just a swirling-point for Atmosphere, even though we saw it fairly seldom. Agatha Christie gave it some *oomph* and I want modern cozy-ers to do the same!


And now for the obligatory grumble: When the reason for Wanda's death is revealed, her suddenly-revealed-to-be-gay son and his lover being greedy, it was such a cheap, long-telgraphed cop-out that I actually considered not reviewing the book at all. Really, Mme. Malliet? Couldn't think of ANYthing better than that? I don't think you tried hard enough, then.

1 comment:

  1. Well, the story could have played out with the same ending, except hetero. I didn't see that the gay part was the problem; the greed was the problem.

    Just my take on it.


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