Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire by M.R.C. Kasasian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The year is 1939 and, as Britain prepares for coming war, Betty Church prepares to return to her home town of Sackwater in coastal Suffolk to do battle of her own—as a police inspector, no less. How will she, a woman, be received into this traditionally male realm by her fellow officers?
Fans of M. R. C. Kasasian’s Gower Street Detective series (of which I am one) will love his new creation. Not only is Betty Church logical and tough, she is also March Middleton’s godchild—a good thing, too, since she is about to face a most puzzling series of murders, which may or may not have something to do with one of her constables’ past.
The cast of rude mechanicals in Betty’s charge ensures that Mr Kasasian can continue the absurdist comedy for which he is renowned. Be it the corpse she finds that turns out to be only her sleeping sergeant, or Woman Police Constable Dodo Chivers, who takes every statement quite literally, humour abounds. Where Dodo is concerned (like Mr Grice before her in the Gower Street novels), it can send conversations off at increasingly surreal tangents, which can require a careful reading if you’re to get the joke.
Her bumbling colleagues aside though, Betty also has a wealth friends who are quietly but delightfully developed as characters—fixtures, I hope, for many journeys to come. I especially liked Captain Carmelo (her ex-boyfriend’s Maltese father), Jimmy (her ex-boyfriend’s nephew, who considers her to be his aunt), and Dr Tubby Gretham and his wife. There has even been speculation on Twitter that Mr Kasasian himself pops up in the role of Betty’s father, an unpopular dentist who can hardly be civil to his own daughter, let alone to his dwindling number of patients. As for the mystery element, there are some particularly grisly murders, a lot of blood, and an extremely enticing red herring. More than this I dare not say for fear of spoilers.
One of the great pleasures of reading an M. R. C. Kasasian novel is that nothing will be quite as you imagine it should be, whether it’s a character’s name, their appearance, their background, or even their interpersonal relationships—and with Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire, Mr Kasasian takes this to a whole new level. Within the cozy mystery genre his voice is unique. If you delight in meeting a truly new kind of character, you will certainly delight in this. Be warned though; Victorian sensibilities are a thing of the past and the ripeness of some of the language may come as a shock.
If you enjoy comedy like this, you might also enjoy (although they are not Crimes & Thrillers) James Hamilton-Patterson’s Cooking with Fernet Branca, Patrick Dennis’s Auntie Mame (or better still—if you can manage to get your hands on a copy—Little Me), and even perhaps Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. Fans of the Grinder-Snipe twins will relish in Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey’s Julian and Sandy from the vintage BBC radio series Round the Horne. Varder the big bona lallies on him!
Many thanks to @MRCKASASIAN, Head of Zeus Books @HoZ_Books, #KasasianCrew, and #NetGalley for providing me with a reviewer’s galley proof.
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