Right from the first page, Helen Smith's story glows like a roman candle: bright, colourful and full of surprises. This is a perfectly formed mystery in every way; each necessary clue is present and followed up, though as you would expect from a well-constructed mystery, there are plenty of false clues and blind alleys. This story is delightful to read on several levels: first there are the descriptions of the guests - Helen's vignettes of bonfire night party-goers are poignantly hilarious; then there is the succession of encounters you might expect at a busy party on bonfire night, where avant garde entertainment is included; and thirdly, the unfolding of strange coincidences and occurrences leading to the 'whodunit'. Even there Ms Smith has introduced an extra twist. This story is a real corkscrew of events, intertwined lives, relationships and clues that will keep you guessing to the end.
The Emily of the subtitle is bruised from having recently lost her dog to old age. Yet the faithful creature somehow seems to stay by her side. Whether a supernatural presence or simply a fond memory, we are never quite sure. In either case, Jessie is as much a part of the mystery and its solution as anything else.
This tale takes a different tack to Helen Smith's previous novels, being a short story of around 17,000 words. Humour is such a personal thing but in my opinion this one has the most intensely funny moments so far. I found myself laughing out loud at the descriptions of some of the characters. There is certainly a wealth of characters here to enjoy, from the smoulderingly attractive to the condescending and, of course, the thoroughly eccentric.
The story is set in one of the many Georgian and Victorian suburbs that exist in London and is most evocative of a life today which is sedate but so often insular. I didn't intend to read the whole story in one go but it was so entertaining and so intriguing, I was unable to put it down. Definitely one to read more than once. I sincerely hope this is the first of many and that Emily Castles will be back to entertain us again soon.