"A Little Local Murder" is British crime writer Robert Barnard in his black humor, wickedly sardonic mode, dissecting, skewering a small town with its menagerie of nasty inhabitants. The town of Twytching has been twinned with an American town in Wisconsin, and the radio station there wants to do a profile of their sister town. They contact a British radio station which sends spies out to reconnoiter the town. The upcoming radio broadcast triggers a series of events including turning neighbor against neighbor, poison pen letters, and, of course, murder.
Several marriages, already travesties, flounder on the rocks and innocent people get clobbered.
This is one of Barnard's burlesques with more caricature than characterization in some of his people. He has a tendency to blend the comic targets with some more serious psychological probing. The novel is full of ironic twists and little gems exploring the funny foibles of people. There are the usual dimwits, cold-blooded monsters, nut cases, egotists, doormats, worms who turn, male and female, and those married souls who are trampled over by their dominant alpha mates. Even though he presents many characters in this mystery, it's very easy to keep the characters straight and differentiate them.
Starting with the mean-spirited mayor's wife, almost everyone is vying to be featured on the radio program. The two British radio people are squalid, randy creatures who take advantage of their situation. Mrs. Leaze, the grocery mistress, is a sleazy gossip, the vicar is off the tracks-and on it goes with each of the townspeople susceptible because of some secret vice or weakness.
In this Barnard novel one would be hard-pressed to find a nice person. (One nice person is too weak-kneed.) Timothy Jimson, schoolteacher, is particularly awful. One character is full of "tittle tattle, back-biting, and conspiracy."
The Brits do twisted black comedy better than their American cousins because they're more biting, more daring, nastier, and more insightful. They'll take that extra step that Americans often are too wary to take. A good example is "Monty Python."
Mix a lot of nasty, despicable characters, stir frantically, and what do you get?--another classic piece of Barnard black humor. The people of Twytching are "the closest thing on this earth to a bunch of turnips."