Thursday, November 19, 2009

Finally, the cat ISN't the villian!

A cat, a dog and a vicar walk into the English countryside . . . no, this isn't the start of a (hopefully) bawdy joke, but rather the characters and setting of the book A Load of Old Bones by Suzette A. Hill. The Reverend Francis Oughterard feels he can finally relax. He's been assigned to a church in the small village of Molehill in Surrey in the 1950s. He begins the story with no pets, but that soon changes.

Mrs. Elizabeth Fotherington, one of the vicar's parishioners, makes a none-too-subtle play for the vicar (who only wants to be left in peace). One day, while attempting a quiet stroll in the countryside, the reverend is accosted by the boorish Mrs. Fotherington, who was obviously lying in wait for him. Enraged at having his peace and quiet disturbed, and seeing no way to avoid her future attentions, the reverend proceeds to strangle the offending woman. Thus begin his attempts to distance himself from both the woman and the crime. This becomes very difficult when it is shown that Mrs. Fotherington has left the reverend a very tidy sum in her will, despite having known him for only a brief time.

Maurice, Mrs. Fotherington's spoiled cat, is not really sorry to see her go, but he is a bit worried about how this turn of events will affect him (in true cat fashion). After sizing up his options, he decides that moving in with the reverend is the best option. He does this while the reverend is away on his holidays (conveniently scheduled before the unplanned crime), so that by the time the reverend returns, Maurice is already comfortably installed in his house.

Bouncer the dog is owned by Reginald Bowler, the local bank manager. When Mrs. Fotherington turns up dead, Bowler takes advantage of the general upheaval in the village to abscond with a great deal of the bank's money. This leaves Bouncer without a home also. After a few days of sleeping the the graveyard, Maurice convinces him to move in with the vicar, too. Surprisingly, the vicar seems to take the arrival of abandoned pets on his doorstep in stride. I suppose with everything else he has on his plate, a few furry friends are the least of his worries.

The way the novel is structured is very interesting, with each chapter designated as either "The Cat's Memoir," "The Vicar's Version," or "The Dog's Diary," so the reader gets the story from three different points of view. The cat and dog also play a part in helping their new master to cover his tracks after the crime. This is the first in three books (so far), featuring the unusual trio. I'm looking forward to reading the next two to keep up with their adventures!

Final Verdict for A Load of Old Bones: Three Gherkins, for being a light and entertaining mystery featuring some unusual sleuths

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