Psycho by the Sea (A Constable Twitten Mystery)

Written by Lynne Truss
Review by G. J. Berger

This fourth installment in the Constable Twitten mysteries plays out in England’s coastal town of Brighton in September 1957. A street vendor of little wind-up bunnies goes missing. A professor’s body lies in a department store’s music listening booth. A serial cop-killer escapes from the local insane asylum. He murders policemen, then boils their heads. A photography shop clerk is beaten and almost killed. The story is told mostly through three Brighton policemen: Inspector Steine, referred to by those who know him as Inspector Idiot; Sergeant Brunswick, aka Sergeant Stupid; and Constable Twitten, indeed a twit and neurotic.

Clever women make for nice contrasts to the hapless cops. Police station janitor and tea server, Mrs. Groynes, is a criminal mastermind and head of a small army of thieves and murderers. Another gang, run by stunningly beautiful Adelaide Vine, plots to unseat the Groynes gang. Transplanted Vienna psychiatrist Carlotta Stein has her own devious plans for the serial cop-killer. Even London’s Scotland Yard Police Commissioner and his secretary, Miss Lennon, conspire with the crooks.

Though unconventional and sometimes crazily nonsensical, this novel is humorous, clever, interesting, and easy to follow. The very British dialogue and narration, names, settings, and customs lend authenticity. Truss gets the details right. The many secondary characters all fit, some in funny ways, such as four gang thugs disguised as French onion sellers.

This is no hard-boiled mystery. Readers will turn pages not so much to learn “who done it” but to see what capers unfold next. All manner of zany goings on (not just bodies) do pile up. Recommended for anyone looking to enjoy a macabre, yet charming change from traditional mysteries.