Fete Fatale by Robert Barnard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Robert Barnard's "Fête Fatale" could be classified as a "cozy" mystery if not for the author's occasional usage of his trademark sardonic style (alas, there is way too little of that, for my liking). The story takes place in a rather small and closed community, a woman is the sleuth, and there is not much violence. Fortunately for me (as "cozy" is probably my least favorite genre), the author makes some funny sexual references and a the novel conveys a clear social message: a 1980's woman pitched against a Victorian community.
Hexton, a small town in Yorkshire, needs a new vicar. The candidate selected by the bishop is rejected by the town womenfolk as he is avowedly celibate; after all, "everybody knows" that it is the vicar's wife who is the center of the vicarage. Hexton happens to be ruled by women; men's roles are inconsequential (as the author jokes, the town is a case of "Stepford husbands"). Local vet's wife, Helen, is the narrator of the story.
A murder happens during the Annual Hexton Church Fête; police begin their investigation, yet it is Helen, who does most of the sleuthing - she knows the local "web of customs and conventions, the alliances and animosities" better than the police. I find the denouement disappointing but a bit funny, in a perverse way. Also the penultimate sentence of the novel is absolutely hilarious. Still, the portrayal of Hexton is too exaggerated and, for me, there is too much coziness and not enough sarcasm.
Two and a quarter stars.
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