Title: Murder in Little Shendon
Author: A.H. Richardson
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Publication Date: August 28, 2015
Genre: Murder Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 4 Stars
I was recently sent Murder in Little Shendon by publicists in exchange for an honest review.
Dear fellow Babblers,
A.H. Richardson’s Murder in Little Shendon is an Agatha Christie murder mystery written in the hand of our beloved 40-page-sentence author, Marcel Proust. This means to say that this book is a murder mystery in the way that it is not so much the murder that is at heart of the entire story, but rather the way in which it is described – how the murder, it’s suspects, and everything and everyone in between are presented to the reader. Alternating points of view and perspectives lure the reader into the story where everything is no longer cookie-cutter perfect and all is amiss, inviting the reader to solve the inexplicable question: who killed ole’ Barholomew Fynche and does anyone really even care ?
Picture, if you will, a picturesque village called Little Shendon, suddenly caught up in dealing with a murder of one of its citizens – not a particularly well-liked one at that. Which makes it all the more intriguing because the list of suspects becomes very long. This tantalizing tale unfolds with delightful twists and turns to find out whodunit to Mr. Bartholomew Fynche, the murdered shopkeeper. Fear grips the community as the investigation slowly progresses. Everyone is interviewed; everyone is suspect! From the murdered man’s housekeeper to Lady Armstrong, her staff and her nephew. Or could it be the shy librarian new in town? Or the defiant retired army major and his ladyfriend, the post mistress? Or perhaps the weird sisters who live on the edge of town? Then there is the couple who own the local inn and pub, along with the two Americans who are staying there? Even the vicar and his wife fall under the gloom of suspicion. Uncertainty, wariness, and terror reign as neighbors watch neighbors to discover the evil that permeates their upturned lives. No one feels safe in this charming little village. A.H. Richardson, noted author, places in your trembling hands a mystery murder that will keep you reading until you learn the details, uncovered by Police Inspector Stanley Burgess and his two amateur detectives, his friend Sir Victor Hazlitt and the famed Shakespearean actor Beresford Brandon. Scratch your head with them over the strange clues that turn up. Follow them as they tread carefully among the landmines that appear innocent as they lie hidden beneath the surface of mystery. Something evil skulks in this tiny country village. Who is the murderer? And why was this strange uncivil man dispatched in such a seemingly civil community? You are challenged to discover the culprit before the last few pages. And no fair looking ahead – it’s the journey that proves the most enticing.
Set in a tiny, seemingly banal village called Shendon where all is expected to be right, a terrifying murder unfolds that brings a town together not for the mourning of a beloved inhabitant but rather as suspects of the murder of a brusque old man. In this post World War II British town Mr. Fynche is a sour antiques dealer but the reader never gets a chance to really get to know the guy as the story begins in the middle of things at the onset of his murder. Together with his trusted ally Sir Hazlitt and quirky actor buddy Beresford Brandon, local inspector Burgess traverse through the village, one by one questioning its inhabitants in order to discover the truth behind Mr. Fynche’s death. The three buddies split up, waking up a once gray and dreary town, spreading fire, spotlighting all everyone and anyone that they come across, determined not to miss a single detail of this sudden kill.
The novel quickly and suddenly alternates points of view between as multiple characters are introduced and made suspect, possibly villain in the story. Each character comes with a different past – their own story to tell, one way or another connecting them to the murder. Each have secrets, some more profoundly wicked than others. This is exactly what I found most appealing about the novel. The cook at Sir Victors aunt’s home is constantly fighting to keep still in the face of questions while a young newcomer evidently hides something that no one can guess but all can detect from her inscrutable manner. There are clues that the trio follows which bring them through twists, turns, and often back to where they started as they are lead to doubt what is being said and whom they should trust and believe is telling the truth and why others feel the need to lie. It was not so much the murder that drew me in, it was the flawlessness that the author displayed in using the murder as a way to study each and every person in the town. Richardson creates an accurate portrait as she takes the reader into the mind of the characters, revealing the secrets they keep, conflicts they are fighting, and the troubles that they have no choice but to confront with the unfolding of Mr. Fynche’s death. Each character has a story to tell and takes the reader along, back in time to the point where their secrets become their worst enemies.
The language is really old school, keeping up with the murder unraveling during the 1940’s. I particularly enjoyed this in the book, feeling as though I was reading into another time where everything was classic, different and the world was still suffering the consequences of the second world war.
If I have to give this book any negative feedback it would be the abrupt changes between first and third person, not to mention the random switches in perspective from one suspect to another. This made it at times hard to follow and keep up with what one suspect was saying, and differentiate it from what was actually going on in the book. As a result, I never really managed to feel as though I was in the story. I felt on the outside and never got the feeling that I could forget that I was simply reading a book. I also feel as though this book would have worked better were it formatted as a script rather than a novel with each scene taking the reader into the life of one of the characters. This would have solved the issues of distraction from the alternating time and character perspective. It also would have made the story far easier to connect with as each scene could have connected the suspect with their role in the murder, all-the-while canceling out issues of reliability and whether or not the suspect can even be trusted in solving the murder.
All the suspects’ stories lead up to the riveting, bone chilling and somehow unexpected reveal in the end: the merciless killer. The investigators finally get their answer, but this answer creates all the more questions which often go unanswered, creating ten more mysteries for ever one that is solved.
Murder in Little Shendon brings together the disturbed mind of Christie and the evocative descriptions of Proust to create an entirely new style of mystery, at the same time quick to form, slow to progress and difficult to resolve. This is a highly recommended story that rethinks what makes a murder mystery a murder mystery, no longer putting gruesome action first but instead reevaluating how it is described, rendering language and style more competent than story itself.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)