Simon Brett’s The Strangling on the Stage is part of his Fethering mysteries, set in the fictitious seaside town of Fethering. This is the first time I have read a book by the author, and I was surprised to say the least.
For the longest time, British mysteries have started and ended with Agatha Christie for me. Sherlock Holmes was never much of a favorite, don’t know why. Then I discovered Lord Peter Wimsey and Dorothy Sayers and liked those. M C Beaton is a current favorite with her Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth. P D James is another gifted mystery writer. And lately, I even read a Libby Sarjeant mystery. So I have nothing against the genre as such, just high expectations. The Strangling on the Stage turned out to be much less macabre than its cover page indicated.
An elderly healer, supposedly practicing reiki(?) is roped into joining a local amateur drama club. She meets various characters over drinks at the pub. Most of them are egoistic and self centered, or at least June, the healer, thinks so. June has a habit of supplying a line for each line a character in the book says. Only hers is said to herself. Most times it is just plain nasty. I suppose this is the author’s way of showing how insightful June is when it comes to recognizing a person’s true character? Anyway, the lead player in the drama accidentally hangs himself. This is not a spoiler since the title indicates there is someone getting or being hanged here. One of the ladies, a browbeaten housewife who was working as a prompter, disappears, and June’s laconic neighbor is roped in for the job. The two ladies go about questioning people trying to find out who done it. While doing this, they don’t exactly behave like bosom buddies.
I found the plot of the book superficial at best. After 20% into the book, I had no idea what the story was about, and who was the main character. I had to look up the book on Amazon and read a few reviews before I realized that June and her neighbor are the super sleuths here. After then, I had to wait another 20% until someone got topped off. 40% of a book is a long time to build atmosphere. June, a 50 something woman is mostly thinking of her own prior affairs, asking others about theirs, or warding off advances from men. I did not agree with the end and how a supposed ‘healer’ like June ignores something obvious and leaves a person to their fate.
Overall, I am not sure what first time readers of the series will think about the book. It might be better to read other books in the series before attempting this one.