Hot on the heels of Palace’s historic smash and grab against Brighton at the Amex a week or so back, Mystery by the Sea gives us Sussex south coast shenanigans. Lady Eleanor and co have swapped their Buckinghamshire pile for a week at the Grand Hotel. As with all the previous episodes in this series, there’s a fun puzzle to solve, some upstairs downstairs japes with the staff (the ladies dress up in home-made swimsuits and butler Clifford raises his eyebrow).
Now interwar Brighton is known for its gangland as most famously described in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. So I’m expecting Pinkie and co (or their equivalents) to move through these pages, but they don’t really arrive until the end and even then they are more like Fagin than Brown. No, what Mystery by the Sea gives us is – in its depiction of the seaside rather than the series’ more customary bucolic Home Counties – the series spin off movie where all our favourite characters go on some kind of road trip (albeit in this case at 25mph). It’s fairly obvious that the one that Verity Bright used as their model dates not from 1921 but 1971: the highest grossing film of the year, outdoing even Diamonds are Forever, was…On the Buses.
Hear me out. The witless and charmless Inspector Grimshaw is clearly Blakey. The popular Miss Summers reminds Clifford of a line from Anna Karenina – step forward Anna Karen who played Olive. And as we’ve cast Lionel Blair and Terence Alexander as Clifford previously, it’s only fair that Reg Varney gets a go to be…the butler. Geddit? Stan Butler? Oh, please yourself. In the title role, as always, is the phenomenal Liza Goddard who gets champagne and oysters, a dance with a new beau, and, er, the truth about her old beau – her husband even – the murder of whom is the central plot. It isn’t a locked room mystery but is treated as one which makes sense.
These are strange times, in which reading about crime for entertainment may feel unseemly. But this series is as soft as Brighton rock is hard. I don’t normally read cosy crime but I do make an exception for this series. It’s about the puzzle, not the sensationalism and frankly it’s all too much fun to miss. The holiday aspect dials up the Eleanor/Clifford double act which is where the story is the strongest, and dials down the whimsy to the point that it’s a welcome change of pace. We seem to have lost Lord ‘Goggles’ Fenwick-Langham which is another plus point: newish love interest Hugh is relatively plausible. There’s a nice line in exposition, and the twist is never quite what you’d expect. And as for Lady Eleanor, I’m intrigued as to where Verity Bright will send her next.
Thanks to Sarah Hardy for the invitation to join the blog tour and to Bookoutre for the review copy.