Lady Eleanor, the star of Verity Bright’s 1920s mysteries, is an energetic woman. And that’s just as well because this new title comes just three months after the last. That’s OK, though, because Murder at the Fair is a tale as fluffy and digestible as one of Mrs Trotman’s delightful beef and stilton tarts.
Each of these books is different in the way in which it approaches the 1920s, and in the way in which it brings the whimsy. We’ve seen issues of women’s freedom and class distinction, and in the last novel a night out in which Lady Eleanor joins her downstairs staff for high jinks. For this title, we’re strictly domestic. The B-plot is all about how to spring clean a stately home. It involves the appearance of a vacuum cleaner called Victor, some scrapes that Victor gets into, and a heated discussion about what to call the new washing machine with its built-in mangle. You’ll probably want to know how that particular matter is resolved: I can assure you that disaster is averted and an apt name is found. This is more satisfying than it has any right to be.
The A-plot? Someone dies, then someone else. There’s an attempt on a third life too. If I’m to be honest, though, I’m completely diverted by a dramatic horse ride and an attempt at blackmail. The young Lord Rankin is a character whom every reader will love to hate: he’s less than two dimensional but we really don’t mind. Sir Gordon, he’s bad too. We hiss and we boo and we settle back as Eleanor and Clifford wander round the country remembering half-comments and twine. A lot of twine, wielded by a filthy swine. Somehow they solve the case from that.
It is traditional for the part of Lady Eleanor, in my head anyway, to be played by Liza Goddard from her Bergerac period. The character of Clifford is more of an ensemble affair, if that even makes sense. The horse race between Rankin and Ellie reminded me of the similar chase in A View to a Kill. Rankin gets to be played by Christopher Walken, which is great if we can get him. (Though that does kind of suggest that the part of Ellie should be taken by the late Roger Moore.) Anyway, I am delighted to announce that Clifford is played this time out by Patrick Macnee, and to report that he is marvellous in the role.
What I like about Macnee’s performance is that he does the butler-as-special-agent shtick so well. The sleight of hand depositing a treat for a rabbit in Ellie’s pocket. Identifying a woman based only on her name badge. That kind of thing. The charm of the novel stands or falls on Clifford’s screen presence, and with Macnee in the role we’re golden.
I may have made the whole thing seem a bit ludicrous and silly. I don’t care. This series is full-on entertainment. Lew Grade would approve.
Thanks to Sarah Hardy for the invitation to take part in the blog tour and to Bookoutre for the review copy.