Saturday, May 24, 2014

Death Of An Old GoatDeath Of An Old Goat by Robert Barnard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading Robert Barnard's "Death of an Old Goat" has been a lot of fun. It is a pretty solid mystery, crisply written, full of humor, even to the extent of being "laugh out loud" hilarious in some places. The last sentence of the novel provides one of the best "twists" of the plot I have ever encountered.

Dr. Belville-Smith, an octogenarian Professor of English from Oxford is on a lecture tour in Australia. He arrives at a second-tier Australian university to give the same lecture he has been giving for almost 50 years. To celebrate the distinguished visitor, the chair of the English department throws a party for the academics and the local squirearchy. Alas, the Professor is found murdered the morning after the party. Inspector Royle conducts the investigation, which allows the reader to learn about his schedule of "day jobs" - pure hilarity!

The novel offers an incisive portrayal of life in academia (being an educator myself, I can attest to the accuracy of various observations). What's more, Mr. Barnard pokes fun at the Australian society and culture in general: the prevalence of heavy drinking, rampant corruption, especially among the police force, the attitudes towards the Aborigines (the plot takes place in the early Seventies). I do not know whether these observations are totally true, but the author should know as he taught English literature in Australia for six years.

The pace of the plot slows down a bit in the second half of the book but the denouement is not at all implausible and, as I have mentioned, the last sentence is stunning. All in all, the novel, while a bit of a trifle, is extremely readable. I am thankful to the author for providing me with three hours of intelligent entertainment and I am looking forward to reading his other books. The understated British humor at its best.

Three and a half stars.

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