Lonelyheart 4122 (Flaxborough Chronicles 4) by Colin Watson

Time for Teatime…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Arthur Spain notices that his widowed sister-in-law, Lil, hasn’t been around recently, he pops round to visit her, but his worry increases when he finds a row of full milk bottles outside her door, some curdled, suggesting she hasn’t been home for a couple of weeks. So he reports her missing and soon Inspector Purbright is worrying too, because Lil’s disappearance reminds him of another one from a few months back. Could the two missing women be connected in some way? A bit of investigation shows that both had recently signed on as clients of Handclasp House, a local dating agency…

This is the 4th entry in Watson’s Flaxborough Chronicles and the series is well into its stride by now. As always, it’s full of rather wicked humour about the weaknesses of human nature and those who exploit them. Inspector Purbright is his usual unflappable self, a detective as free from angst as even I could wish for, and with a nice line in mild sarcasm, but never cruelly employed. His sidekick, Sergeant Sid Love, hides a mind like a sink behind a cherubic countenance. And Chief Constable Harcourt Chubb remains the perfect figurehead for the force, a pillar of respectability, stolid and unimaginative…

… the chief constable had the sort of mind which, because it was so static, aided reflection. By dropping facts, like pebbles, into it and watching the ripples of pretended sapience spread over its calm surface, Purbright was enabled somehow to form ideas that might not otherwise have occurred to him.

A new client has just signed up with the dating agency. Miss Lucilla Edith Cavell Teatime is exactly the type of woman an unscrupulous man might prey on – single and new to the area, therefore without friends or family to look out for her, middle-aged and lonely, and so naive and utterly respectable herself that she’s unable to imagine unworthy motives in others. Or at least that’s how she seems on the outside, and Purbright is worried she might be the next victim. But the reader sees much of the story from Miss Teatime’s perspective, so we soon learn she’s not quite as innocent as she likes to appear.

She had just sat sown after looping back the curtain when the girl from the reception office arrived with a glass of whisky and a newspaper. Miss Teatime noted approvingly that the whisky was a double.
“Did you feel faint after the journey, madam?” The girl held the glass like a medicine measure.
“Not a bit of it! Cheers!”
The girl withdrew, looking slightly bewildered.

As Miss Teatime begins to correspond with a gentleman also looking for love, Purbright and Sid have to balance their investigation of the previous disappearances with their desire to prevent her from becoming the next victim. But Miss Teatime has plans of her own…

I love these books and am delighted that Farrago are re-releasing all twelve of them for Kindle. It’s the first time for years they’ve been available at reasonable prices, and that’s a necessity since once you’ve read the first one (Coffin Scarcely Used), you will almost certainly want to binge-read the rest. Although they’re all very good, the ones in the middle are undoubtedly the best, once Watson had established all the regulars. Often humorous crime books are let down by the plotting, but each of these has a strong story and a proper investigation, so they’re satisfying on both levels. They are wickedly perceptive about middle-class English society of the ‘50s, with Watson letting the reader see through the veneer of dull respectability to the skulduggery and jiggery-pokery going on beneath. Mildly subversive, but affectionately so, they form a kind of bridge between the Golden Age and more modern crime novels, with the same class divides as in the earlier era but with the irreverence about them that came fully to the fore in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

But mostly what they are is hugely entertaining, and that’s why you should read them. And if you’ve already read them, give yourself a treat and read them all again. Highly recommended!

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

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45 thoughts on “Lonelyheart 4122 (Flaxborough Chronicles 4) by Colin Watson

  1. This does sound like a good story, FictionFan! I like the look at the dating scene, and especially that Miss Teatime is not the endangered innocent that the police think she is. How fun! I can see why you think this is an entertaining series.

    • This really is a great series – not quite cosy, it’s a bit too wicked for that, but highly entertaining! And Miss Teatime is a great character who develops over the succeeding books. So glad they’re now easily available again!

  2. Love the sound of this one! Seems vastly entertaining!
    I’m getting a Terry Pratchett vibe though with the name Teatime. In Hogfather, Mr. Teatime was very . . . interesting.

    • It’s definitely one of the most entertaining series out there, but still manages to have good plots too! Ah, I didn’t know there was a Pratchett character called Teatime – it’s a great name though. Deceptively innocent…

  3. Those names are something else! I’ve never heard of this series, but it sounds like a lot of fun. And I love it when you say things like ‘jiggery-pokery’ – ha!!

    • Hahaha – for some reason this series always makes me want to use words like jiggery-pokery or skulduggery… or hanky-panky even! 😉 It is great fun though, and very well written and well plotted too.

  4. This one sounds most entertaining. Doggone it, just when I knock one off my TBR, you coax me to add another! Oh, well, ’tis grand ending a week on a high note, right?!!

    • These ones are delightfully short though, and there’s only twelve of them… 😉 Yes, I’ve been having a lot of less than great reads recently so it’s nice to turn to an old favourite.

    • Hurrah! You will love it – I promise!! I won’t get to it till August sometime, but I can’t wait to re-read it again. And I picked up Blue Murder from NG last week – I don’t remember it from the blurb at all and am now wondering if I’ve somehow managed to miss it in the past… 😀

  5. These do sound like fun. I’m in the middle of reading “Passing” right now. I know, I know. It’s short. How can I be in the middle? Well, my time to read is not my own. But I’m quite enjoying it. Thanks for the rec!

    • These are great fun and manage to have good plots too! Oh, I’m glad you’re enjoying Passing – I thought it was an intriguing look at life in Harlem at the time, and though I was familiar with the concept of “passing”, I hadn’t realised it was something that happened often. Let me know what you think of it when you finish!

      • Right now, I’m being held in suspense as I wonder if Clare is going to be “found out” by her husband or if something is going to happen between Clare and Irene’s husband, Brian. Stay tuned….

          • Too late! Finished it last night. Such a tragic ending. Traumatic in so many ways. Makes me wonder what will happen to Irene and Brian. Who will win the battle? Complacency and denial or a reckoning with reality and flight?

            • I thought the ending went a bit over the top, as if she couldn’t wuick think how to get them out of the situation. But otherwise I loved it – in my naivety, I had never really thought of black people of that era as being anything other than poor and uneducated, so it opened my eyes to the fact that there were classes amongst black society just as much as white…

            • Unfortunately, the link doesn’t work for me – maybe it’s a regional rights thing or something. The ending certainly seems to divide people fairly evenly between your reaction and mine. But it didn’t in any way spoil the overall story for me – still one of the best books about race I’ve come across in my American reading…

            • FF, you may have been hacked. Check your WordPress security and see. I suddenly received seven notifications that my comments were liked by what look like bots on several of your posts. Just a precaution, and the news from someone else that their WordPress site had been hijacked by a company called indoxploit.

            • Oh, thanks for that, Jilanne! I had spotted lots of suspicious likes on my own blog and on comments I’d made on other people’s but it didn’t occur to me I might have been hacked. (I mean, why would someone hack a bookblog???) I’ve changed my WP password since just after you left your comment, and haven’t seen any odd activity today, so fingers crossed. And no odd activity on any of my other internet accounts, thankfully. Thanks again – and please let me know if it keeps happening at your end. 🙂

  6. While I was reading the description of Ms Teatime as an innocent woman, I kept thinking that would be me if I were single. Heck, that might be me anyway. I have a hard time assuming people can do bad because it seems so irrational. Glad she’s wiser than I. 😳

    • Hahaha – she may or may not be wiser than you, but I’m willing to bet she’s wickeder than you! 😉 She’s a great character and Watson obviously liked her too, because she becomes a regular as the series goes on… 😀

  7. My TBRs are out of control, threatening to overwhelm me. I can’t cope with another one surely – but I can’t resist, I’m hooked, powerless against their insistence that I have to have more! I enjoyed Bump in the Night, so Lonelyheart and the rest are now on the list too.

    • Hahaha! These ones are addictive – what was that old advert about “bet you can’t eat just one”? I’m trying to only read the ones I haven’t read for a long time, but it’s so tempting to give in and just re-read the whole series… 😀

  8. Ha ha, what Margaret said! 😁 And this is a whole series…. But it does sound such fun….. 🤔

    *singing loudly, sticking fingers in ears and screwing up eyes…. *

    See? I’ve forgotten all about this one already 🙈🙈🙈

    • Hahaha! You can run, but you can’t hide! The next one I’ll be reviewing is Broomsticks Over Flaxborough – my personal favourite – so I shall be doing everything in my power to break down your resistance…

    • Although these are a bit later than Golden Age, they do still have that same vintage charm – well, Anton Rodgers played Purbright in the TV version, for goodness sake! They’re worth getting a Kindle for… 😉

  9. This book sounds really good, I haven’t read a lot of comic mysteries that are done well so this is encouraging. I will say that the cover seems a bit odd and out-of-place for what’s between the covers though, eh?

  10. These sound wonderful! Is it worth reading them in chronological order, or are they the type of mystery books where you can jump around and read whichever you happen to have on hand?

    • I think you can jump in anywhere. When I first read them hundreds of years ago, I just grabbed whatever one the library had and never felt I was missing anything. There’s no background story arc or anything like that. The middle ones are the best, in my opinion, so this would be a great one to start with… 😀

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