REVIEWED: The Liar in the Library

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The Liar in the Library by Simon Brett (Cozy Murder Mystery, 2017).

A newly successful, yet ego-driven, creepy and womanizing author, Burton St. Clair gives a reading and talk in the library of Fethering, a small English coastal town. Then he promptly gets himself murdered in the parking lot after hours. In the process, he inadvertently makes Jude Nicholls a leading suspect in the crime.

Fairly easygoing Jude and her rather difficult next door neighbor Carole Seddon are already an established team of amateur sleuths, this being the sixth volume in the Fethering Mystery Series. But their friendship/crime fighting partnership is considerably strained: Jude is frantic to clear herself at any cost and deeply offends insecure Carole by actually accepting help with the investigation from a mystery-loving stranger, Oliver Parsons.

Jude knew St. Clair years ago, when he was unpublished and struggling, and using the name he was born with. She was really friends with the man’s emotionally unstable first wife, who now imagines Jude broke up the marriage (though Jude in fact rejected the faithless bastard’s seductive overtures).

There are several other good suspects and the ‘surprise’ ending wasn’t that big a shock to me. But the main pleasures in this book involve the two middle-aged sleuths’ prickly but fun relationship and the author’s gleefully tart wit. Whodunit certainly matters here and is effectively handled, make no mistake. But this former TV and radio producer turned successful and much-honored mystery writer’s delicious style is the key to the book’s success.

As a writer, I found some sharp insights into matters of literary snobbery (‘serious writer’ types who undervalue ‘genre writers,’ for example) and for that matter the tendency of some self-published types toward bitterness and an excessive view of their own importance at once amusing and spot-on accurate. And as a loyal supporter of a small town library struggling for survival in the 21st century, the subplot involving this English library’s woes was all-too-true and familiar to me.

This one is definitely an example of the modern cozy novel done right–up to and including the somewhat exotic murder method, and how Brett ties it in with the ‘classic’ amateur detective tales of the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

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