The Strangling on the Stage (Fethering Mysteries) by Simon Brett

The seven ages of woman…

😦 😦

the strangling on the stageRitchie Good is the most talented male actor in local amateur dramatics, so he’s always in demand. Arrogant and conceited, he has a habit of hitting on every woman he meets which, combined with his put-downs of fellow cast members, ensures his unpopularity. But when he is found hanged on a stage gallows built for the next production of The Devil’s Disciple, the police come to the conclusion that it must have been accidental – a conclusion not shared by friends Jude and Carole, who set out to investigate…

At the beginning I thought I was really going to enjoy this book. The writing flows smoothly and the ‘cosy’ feel of it, set in the slightly unreal world of am-dram, starts out well. However, the further I got into it, the more irritating I began to find it. Firstly, the characterisation, which is incredibly stereotyped, has a major problem in that the author seems unable to decide what ages his characters are. At one moment, we have Carole being ‘hit on’ by a handsome young actor – then we discover she is a retired grandmother. Then we have Hester, post-menopausal we are told, also hit on by a much younger man (maybe there is a shortage of young women in the area?), but married to a man whom we are told is much older than her and yet who is portrayed as, at a guess, mid-fifties. These are just two examples of a recurring confusion throughout the book. A mess, quite frankly, that should have been picked up by the editor, if the author wasn’t aware of it.

Simon Brett
Simon Brett

But I could possibly have overlooked that. What really made me start frothing at the mouth was the scene where one character is in a nursing home, and a nurse casually reveals details of her illness and treatment to Jude, who is neither a relative nor even a friend of the patient, and has no official standing. Jude, described as a healer and obviously from the description of her healing some kind of Reiki practitioner, undertakes to ‘heal’ the patient without her consent; then, having formed a practitioner/patient relationship, uses that to wheedle information out of her, which she then passes on quite casually to other people. Neither a good nurse nor a principled practitioner (and we are led to believe that Jude is principled) would ever behave in these ways. But we are supposed to see it as not just normal but in some way admirable.

And the end, which I won’t reveal, is so utterly ludicrous that had the book retained any credibility by that point, it would have immediately lost it. Even ‘cosies’ need to have some basis in reality. You will have gathered perhaps that this book does not get my wholehearted recommendation. I can see how Brett’s writing style could be fun, and perhaps his other books are better, but this one has so many problems that I won’t be rushing to read any more of them.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Severn House.

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25 thoughts on “The Strangling on the Stage (Fethering Mysteries) by Simon Brett

  1. Is this a new book? When I started reading your review I assumed that it was a re-print of something written in the thirties. The setting seems much more likely to have come from that era.

    • It does seem very dated – and I think that was part of his problem with the age thing. He seemed to be suggesting that am-dram is full of retired oldies but also wanted sex and romance to be part of the plot and just couldn’t get it right. But definitely a new release. I’ve heard some of his radio plays and found them reasonably fun, but the book was a real disappointment.

  2. FictionFan – I am sorry to hear that this one disappointed you. I like Brett’s wit and writing style, and those I’ve read are more credible than this one sounds. Shame you didn’t find this one more appealing. Ah, well, at least I won’t have to add to my TBR this visit… 😉

    • It was the confusion and lack of credibility that were the problems with this. I did like his writing style and could see how it could be fun, but the problems outweighed that. It might just be this one book, though – I know he’s got quite a following. I’ll be interested to read other reviews of this one when they start coming out, on the grounds of ‘Is it just me?…

  3. Haven’t read this one, but I have read a couple of his Charles Parris books – let’s just say they work better when adapted for radio. Now, those are seriously good editors.

    • I listened to one of the radio adaptations last year via Vine, and quite liked it, though I didn’t find it brilliant by any means. But yes, having good actors, editors, etc certainly helped – at least there was no age confusion in it (though again he seemed fixated on extremely unlikely relationships between older women/younger men and vice versa now I think about it – maybe it’s a symptom of his own age?)

  4. Your reviews have the habit of making me want to read the book despite (or maybe because of) your reservations. I know I would hate this as unreliable characterisation winds me up….. thanks for another great review and for once my TBR is safe.

  5. I used to enjoy his Charles Paris series many moons ago, probably when he started writing them, but i do think he is one of those writers who perhaps had a fairly narrow seam of coal or whatever it was they were mining, and maybe have not realised the seam has long been emptied and they are just left drilling dust now.

    The mistakes you mention, though, sure, would have been picked up by a good editor, maybe would not have been made by a writer who has not succumbed to autopilot.

    And, a more awake, alert writer might even have had an editor who stayed fascinated enough to notice errors!

    But most of all, i echo Cleopatra, thank you SOOOOOO much for not engaging my one clicky finger.

    Would you like to take a kind decision to just read some dodos for the next few weeks. With maybe the odd (no more than a couple) or diamonds which we can put on the Christmas gift list for the lovely nearests and dearests for THEIR Christmas presents – or, indeed on THEIR lists for us!

    Meanwhile, vide the unpleasant and unprofessional Reiki practitioner – maybe this WOULD be the ideal book for someone who HATES the very idea of complementary health and believes all CAM practitioners are charlatans!

    • Yes, laziness was the real problem, I suspect – know your market, assume they’ll stick with you and just bung out anything. But oh, these people need an honest friend sometimes…

      Fortunately I’m hating one book at the moment, loving another but you’ve already read it, and the third is US politics, which I suspect you may be able to resist!

      😆 Poor M***! I wouldn’t wish this book even on him!

  6. Haha! You know not the professor’s joy upon seeing a ripio…

    Well, the love mess is rather disheartening. Perhaps he should have skipped the whole thing?

    And look at him. So unaware of how you’re ripping him.

    The part that got you “frothing at the mouth” seems very funny.

    Definitely a Yucketh on this one?

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