on 10 February 1998
This novel made me homesick for England. But pleasantly so. It opens in London's Trafalgar Square, which lives in my memory as the place to go on Christmas Eve. There would be a huge Christmas tree, sent over from Norway, I believe, all decorated and lit up, and hundreds of people singing Christmas carols. There's no Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in the opening of this book. There is a body instead. It is discovered by Oliver Swithin, who has hay-colored hair that is straight and floppy. teeth that are too prominent, docile blue eyes behind wire-framed spectacles. He is wearing a tuxedo that has seen better days. Not a macho hero, one deduces almost immediately. Sir Hargreaves (Harry) Random was "floating face-down in a Trafalgar Square Fountain....with a look of mild irritation on his face, mortified in all senses of the word." Listen to this. Far above ... the rising sun was gilding the pigeon guano on Nelson's hat." (For the unknowing, Nelson's column is one of the primary features of Trafalgar Square.) There are a lot of wonderfully visual and fresh images like that throughout this well-wrought novel. Here's a description of a police officer, Sergeant Welkin: "He was an overweight man in his thirties, with a black moustache and a harsh boxer's face, who invariably reminded people of someone else they knew. He bred Burmese cats." Oliver writes a series of books about a "Foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ex-public-schoolboy ferret named Finsbury.... giving the beast all the vices he had never possessed." The series of course becomes a critical and financial success, though not for Oliver, who isn't getting any of the money. "Hoist by your own pet," Oliver's uncle murmurs. The Finsbury books expose the infants of England to the evils of alcohol, drugs, pornography, promiscuity, soccer hooliganism, smoking, and country and western music." (Ahem! Excuse me?) Mr. Beechey very cleverly, after introducing Finsbury, obeys the dictum that if you show a ferret early in the plot, the ferret should bite someone before the end. If left to myself here, I'd quote the whole book and you wouldn't have to buy it and that would never do. Oliver as sleuth is assisted by, or sometimes desisted by, his Uncle , Inspector Tim Mallard of the Yard. He sleuths by Zodiac signs, following the trail of a serial murderer. He also yearns for Sergeant Effie Strongitharm and fantasizes her response to him with replies that range from a snorted "With *you*?" to a breathless, "At last--take me now, my shy young hero among men." He's not too successful with Effie, which is hardly surprising. There are many surprises in this book so I'm not going to tell anything about the plot progression. One big surprise almost lifted me out of bed, where I was reading. For a few pages, I was really......no that would be a spoiler. There are a lot of puns in this book, and as you've seen--much humor. Not of the slapstick kind, but my favorite kind of understated English humor that depends mostly on a very satisfying use of words. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment. I loved this book And I've decided I have to visit London next year. For sure.
As the story begins the body of Sir Hargreves Random is found floating in one of the fountains of Trafalgar Square. He is discovered by fellow children's author Oliver Swithin, who joins forces with his Police Inspector Uncle to try to uncover whether this was an unfortunate accident or murder. The very next day another murder victim is discovered, and then the same the day after that. The victims are being killed in increasingly strange ways and each has a mysterious symbol left by the body, so there is little doubt that the murders are linked. But who is the murderer and what is his/her motivation for killing this apparently disparate group of victims?
The word-play alone makes this book witty and original, but the cast of characters is something else! Even if a character appears for a couple of pages, they are drawn vividly and given some interior life; I particularly likes Underwood Tooth a man who has been ignored his whole life so decides to become a private investigator, but no-one replies to his advert!
The only slight moan that towards the end of the book a few of the pages are bound in the wrong order (my friend has a copy and says the same thing.) Otherwise a great read with a few lesser known London facts thrown in.
on 30 November 1997
Children's book author Oliver Swithin finds the corpse of a friend, Sir Harry Random, floating in the fountain at Trafalgar Square. Oliver is convinced that his buddy has been murdered, but the police disagree. However, each day, a new corpse with a strange note or object begins to appear.
Oliver's uncle, Detective Superintendent Timothy Mallard realizes that a serial killer is on the loose in London. Needing some help to get the investigation off the ground, Timothy turns to his nephew, who is wealth of trivial information, for some assistance. Oliver soon begins to piece together the links between the deceased, only to find that is a smoke screen to further hide the real culprit. They need to uncover the diabolical killer's identity soon before another victim is added to the rising toll.
AN EMBARRASSMENT OF CORPSES is one of the best serial killer mysteries of the nineties. The novel is a combination of a brilliant who-done-it (the killer is identified early, but most readers will miss the not so obvious clues) with humorous characters. Alan Beechey breathes fresh life into a sub-genre that has become very trite recently.
on 24 May 1999
After a night of snark-hunting, Sir Harry Random, a well-known children's author, turns up dead in a fountain in Trafalger Square. His body is found by his friend Oliver Swithin, a fellow snark-hunter and part-time children's author who has created one of the most malevolent characters in all of children's literature, the ferret Finsbury. Sir Harry is but the first in a series of corpses, all of whom seem to be the work of a zodiac serial killer. Oliver's uncle Mallard is a Detective Superintendent in the New Scotland Yard whose attractive young assistant Effie Strongitharm is a budding love interest of Oliver's. The story of their search for the murderer is a cleverly written and twisting tale, fast-paced and most of all, FUN!
on 8 March 1999
I have seldom laughed so hard reading a mystery novel. It was also, I thought, an excellent mystery. It kept me guessing & I didn't arrive at the solution before the characters did, as I usually do. Everything made sense in the end, the characters were well-drawn, very clever, witty, sexy, and sometimes satisfyingly over the top (Hoo, Watt, & Eidenau - now really!) When can I get Beechy's next book?