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Hatchett and Lycett [Paperback]

Nigel Williams
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Mar 2002
Croydon, 1940, and terror stalks the skies as German bombers make their first raids over southern England. Terror stalks Saltdene School for Girls too as a heartless murderer first bumps off Spanish-teacher and Nazi-sympathizer Alice Everett on her way back from a trip to Paris, then accounts for her best friend, 'Leafy' Green. Not everyone is preoccupied with the murders though: Hatchett and Lycett, once schoolboy friends and now fellow-masters at the local boys school, each have their eyes on Norma. Which one will she choose? And what difference will it make when she discovers the terrible childhood secret that the two men share?

Product details

  • Paperback: 433 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin/ Viking; First Edition in this format/1st prnting edition (28 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670912557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670912551
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,373,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Despite its binary title Nigel Williams' immensely entertaining comic novel Hatchett and Lycett, like the classic Truffaut film Jules et Jim, is dominated by a ménage à trois. As the book is set (mainly) in Croydon at the beginning of World War II, the threesome is of the staunchly English stiff-upper-lip, platonic variety; although any novel whose subplots include the mysterious disappearance of an adulterous cleric, a lecherous chemistry master and a Sapphic murder at Mallory Towers, is hardly likely to disappoint the prurient.

The eponymous (Dennis) Hatchett and (Alec) Lycett, old school chums and now schoolmasters at Crotchet Green's Kirby Grammar are both "sweet" on the same woman: childhood friend Norma Lewis, who teaches at the neighbouring "gels" school, Saltdene. Squaring their initially unacknowledged romantic triangle is not the only problem. A Saltdene/Kirby trip to France results in the death (in distinctly suspicious circumstances) of the rather butch Franco-admiring Spanish teacher, Miss Everett. Hatchett asks Norma (if on this occasion only humorously) to marry him and Norma finds herself smuggling Rachel, a Jewish-German girl with an astonishing grasp of nuclear physics, into England as her niece. The moment war is declared Alec enlists and becomes engaged to Norma. However, the reappearance of Alec's long-banished twin brother Lucius and the continuing decimation of Saltdene's fascistic, lesbian, Spanish department by poisoning and strangulation prove almost as alarming as the increasingly omnipresent exploits of the "heartless Nazis".

In places Williams relies too heavily on the Curse of the Comic Capitals (there are a tad too many "The Boy With the Peculiar Ears" and "The Question of the Tomato Sandwich" type gags) but this book is littered with fragments of absolute comic genius--a magnificently rambling vicar's sermon just before Chamberlain's immortal speech is hilarious. There are also touches of astonishing pathos. The Agatha Christie-style murders, while often very funny, feel like an ingredient too many; even Williams himself seems to forget about them halfway through. The unmasking of the murderer at, an unsurprisingly farcical, funeral-cum-wedding is something of an anticlimax. By then Williams has made the unravelling of a darker secret from Hatchett and Lycett's childhood far more intriguing. Its resolution, together with the settling of the bizarre love triangle (more of a love hexagon by the end), provides the book's real, and much more satisfying, dénouement. --Travis Elborough


Hatchett and Lycett is a delightful comedy, a novel of war and secrecy and an unexpectedly touching exploration of the complexity of love and desire.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spiffing wartime adventures 22 July 2002
Essentially the story of three friends from childhood - the eponymous Hatchett and Lycett and the girl that they both love (or so they think), Norma - Nigel Williams' novel manages to combine WWII, love, murder and identical twins yet avoid falling into farce. Fantastically funny in parts - the vicar's sermon mentioned above, the garbled relay of Chamberlain's annoucement of the declaration of war - the book also portrays the power of secrets and how they can poison people's minds. Although parts of this made me laugh out loud, I would not categorise it simply as a comedy. Very highly recommended - it is a novel that I will read again and again.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book because of the name (I am a Lycett!) – well partly at least ! I thought it was going to be a who-dunnit type of book, and was extremely pleased when it turned out to be funny, clever and not very much about the second world war. The events of the war do of course have an effect on the characters, and I did enjoy the eureka scene where one of the minor characters is involved with the discovery of secret of how to make an atomic bomb. Most of all though I loved the way darker secrets about the main characters kept emerging and the ending of the book was excellent. All in all, I thought this was a great book, and I liked it so much that I am also going to buy it for the other Lycetts in my family.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously good job done here 16 Sep 2009
By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
A very enjoyable and funny book, this tells of the two eponymous friends, both in love with prim and pretty schoolteacher Norma. Set at the start of WWII it evokes the naivety and privation of pre-war England, as experienced in a country village in Kent. Beautifully judged writing with believable, engaging characters - village life, school life, each given a solid treatment - with the children particularly shown in all their pathos and primitive ferocity.

The plot involves the rescue of a fugitive from Hitler, mass hysteria in a girls' school, thwarted love and fulfilled love - and it gallops along with tremendous verve and pace. This book had me laughing out loud several times. Williams writes knowingly about men's strange inability to talk about their emotions and women's even stranger inability to talk about little else. A tremendously good job done here.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Farcical and moving - perfect 18 July 2013
A series of dead school-mistresses, a love triangle complicated enough without the return of an undisclosed evil twin, a village full of secrets, often very dark, at every corner; I love this book. Against the background of the outbreak of the Second World War Hatchett and Lycett, best friends from childhood, compete for the love of the pragmatic schoolteacher, Norma. A bunch of other hilarious things happen, along with some very poignant other things. I laughed out loud many times.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I haven't bought used books before through Amazon but would do so in preference to new now - why didn't i think of this before? In terms of the novel, i'm a big Nigel Williams fan but it was a tedious read.
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