Friday, January 11, 2008

Alan Beechey

The Oliver Swithin Mysteries
by Alan Beechey
Recommended Age: 16+

I still remember the first experience of reading An Embarrassment of Corpses, the first in a series of mysteries full of literary cleverness, cheeky humor, and a satisfyingly clever, fast-paced plot. I was intrigued by a truly puzzling murder mystery, charmed by the witty style and eccentric characters, spooked by the diabolical nature of the crimes, and tickled into breathless laughter by some splendid (and sometimes rather naughty) jokes. Then, as I neared the end of the book, reading in bed before going to sleep as I often do, I came to a plot twist so staggering that I was virtually launched out of bed. It was one of those, “No way! Say it isn’t so!” book moments that happen more rarely than you would think. Was it a red herring, or was it real? Or was the real solution of the mystery even more mind-blowing than that?

I’m not telling. You’ll just have to find out for yourself whether this series of murders is the act of a diabolical serial killer, a revenge spree, or something even more sinister yet. Join an amateur-thespian Scotland Yard Inspector named Mallard and his mousy-haired, amateur-sleuth nephew Oliver, who writes a wildly popular series of children’s books under a feminine pseudonym and lives with three really weird roommates. Follow the clues, try not to bust a gut laughing, and heed my warning about the big plot twist: you’d better get to it early in the evening, so you can finish the book in time to have a good night’s sleep. Then, if you’re like me, you’ll probably stay up half the night thinking of people you want to send the book to as a gift.

The sequel, Murdering Ministers, reunites us with Oliver, his roomies, and his copper friends and relatives, as it somehow becomes his responsibility to solve a murder that takes place right in the front of a church, during a service. With a devastatingly clever take on the nature of splintery, sectarian religions, as well as the perhaps unexpected fact that the character of churchgoing people, on average, is no better or worse than their unchurched neighbors, it also gives us more good jokes, more mind-challenging plot twists, and more danger and mayhem brewed to the same delightful consistency as the first book.

I haven’t done my homework. There may be other books in this series by now. It’s been a couple of years since the second one came out, and I haven’t kept an eye out for them. That’s simply because I went out of my “mystery phase,” but I may go into another. If I hear of any other books in this series, I’ll read them and let you know about them. You are welcome to do the same for me.

UPDATE: In August 2004, not long after this review was posted on the Book Trolley, Mr. Beechey sent me an email. It was very exciting for me: the first time, I think, I had ever gotten feedback from an author whose books I had reviewed. He had evidently googled himself and found my review and was flattered. Judging by the number of times that has happened since then, I guess "googling oneself" is an author-type thing to do. Apart from that, it sounded like his career wasn't going as well as his work deserved. I hope things have gone better since then!

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