The Ghost Tree (A Betty Church Mystery)

Written by M.R.C. Kasasian
Review by Cassandra Clark

This is the third in Kasasian’s Betty Church murder mystery series. The not-so-sleepy Suffolk village of Sackwater during World War II is a place of long-buried crime, hilariously aslant characters, a police station run in a lackadaisical manner by locals without much benefit of education, and overseen by the much tried, astute, one-armed detective inspector Betty Church. The plot grippingly demonstrates that the good old-fashioned detective story still has mileage.

Betty herself is a brilliant character: sharp, sassy, endearing, and beleaguered by fate in the backwater/Sackwater of her hometown. That she got away to a good boarding school is to her advantage when it comes to parsing through the dialect of the ones she left behind. The intricacies of their cunning match their speech, and each one is instantly recognisable in ways that consistently surprise and delight. That she manages to herd her underlings into something like a police force without murdering the lot shows a strength of character that eventually brings the murderer to book.

It is easy to recount the plot, but it would be a spoiler. Suffice to say that book three gives the backstory to Betty Church herself when her friend, Etterly Utter, goes missing during a childhood game of rounders. Eventually she is presumed dead, and schoolgirl Betty has to come to terms with the terrible mystery of Etterly’s disappearance.

The sheer joy of Kasasian’s writing lies in the dialogue as well as Betty’s sceptical take on events. Some short chapters read like poetry, and he writes comic dialogue to die for. You may laugh out loud but enough threat to make you shudder brings the story to a perfect conclusion.