The Room of the Dead (A Betty Church Mystery)

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

A woman police inspector in rural England in 1940 might seem the ultimate in radical feminism, but here all familiarity ends. Inspector Betty Church of Sackwater Police Station is like no other woman police officer you’re ever likely to meet in life or fiction, and the folk of Sackwater are in the same ‘Little Britain’ mould.

I refuse to outline the plot, as it will be a spoiler, but I hope it is enough to say that once you read on past the first few chapters with its twittish twins, the story finds its voice. The gormlessness of these twin numbskull music hall bobbies has its own mad logic, and Betty herself is relentlessly ironic in her encounters with them. As she says, getting information from them is worse than extracting teeth. At this stage you might lose patience and fling the book across the room to pick up a copy of Aristotle’s Logic, but persevere. It is fun once you get into it, and I found it very welcome after all the darkly nasty crime/mystery novels on offer these days.

Not that this is not gruesome. Despite the relentless one-liners of doubtful wit (‘Suffolk is not renowned for its mountains…’) and the seemingly meandering plot-line, the story does eventually make sense. Bodies galore lead inexorably to a real corpse-fest in a nastily gothic denouement. My lips remain sealed, but the murderer, crowing prematurely over the next pair of unlikely victims, turns out, satisfyingly enough, to be exactly the one you ‘knew’ whodunit all along. Fun to read on a rainy day, and with more in the series, I recommend this, especially if detailed descriptions of surgical false arms are your thing.