Murder at the Museum by Simon Brett

3rd June 2021.

This fourth outing for amateur sleuths Carole and Jude is another delightful caper, filled with the author’s customary wit and comic observation of the middle classes and village life. In this book, he turns his attention to committees and the behaviour of the various characters that join them.

This committee comprises the trustees of Bracketts, the country home of former literary icon, Esmond Chadwick. Carole Seddon has joined at the request of the marketing director for the house. As she watches the power struggles around her, Carole soon wishes she’d stayed at home.

Until human remains are found in the garden, that is.

Though the skeleton is old, the hole in the skull suggests a shooting and a murder. As Carole picks up the challenge, her friend and neighbour Jude seems distracted. She takes in Laurence, an academic and former lover, who’s not in the best of health. Not sure of the situation, Carole feels put out and unable to discuss the case with her friend.

As they approach the investigation from separate angles, a second murder unites them. But with a gunman on the loose, a cast of suspects comprising most of the trustees and a bolshie American academic, it’s not going to be an easy case to solve.

With an eclectic cast of eccentric but believable characters, a convoluted plot with more suspects than you can shake a stick at, and the author’s often irreverent commentary, this is an entertaining and exciting murder mystery that delivers on every level.

And we get to learn a lot more about Jude’s colourful life and past.

Description

Bracketts, an Elizabethan house near the town of Fethering, is about to be turned into a museum, but the transition is proving nightmarish. Carole regrets her decision to be on the museum’s Board when she witnesses bitter antagonism and rivalry amongst the other members.

The tensions climax when a human skeleton is found in the kitchen garden and then another body is discovered, not yet cold. These murders in the museum quickly turn into a case that tests the sleuthing powers of Carole, and her neighbour Jude, as never before . . .

Murder at the Museum by Simon Brett

More than a Murder Mystery

Isn’t it lovely when readers surprise you?

Here I am, writing murder mysteries for crime fiction lovers, doing my best to create the most baffling and convoluted plots possible. Being a huge fan and admirer of Agatha Christie, I’ve studied her approach and techniques, determined to learn from the best-selling crime writer of all time.

When the reviews and feedback come in, I’m delighted when readers enjoy the plots, the complexity and the unexpected twists that lead to an exciting climax. But many of them love the characters and the backstory. They want Kent Fisher to find the woman of his dreams, to deal with his boss and the bureaucracy at work, and any number of issues the backstory generates.

And Kent’s West Highland white terrier, Columbo, steals every scene he’s in.

Harvey on sofa

Then I discover many of my readers don’t usually read crime fiction.

It’s a bit of a surprise, but a welcome bonus.

When I first started the series, I wanted to create something all the family could enjoy – the kind of TV crime drama that aired at 8pm on a Sunday evening, like Inspector Morse. That’s why there’s no excessive violence, no offensive swearing or graphic sex scenes.

I also wanted Kent Fisher to be rooted to a setting, to a dream and gave him his own animal sanctuary. He needed help, so I gave him a manager. He needed money, so I gave him wealthy parents – landed gentry to conflict with his principles and create some tension. As he was an environmental health officer by profession, there was a team and managers around him.

No AccidentWhen I started the first novel, No Accident, I had no idea how these characters and backstory would influence the books that followed, or the reactions of readers. Sometimes, it seems there’s as much drama in the backstory as the murder mystery.

I soon discovered that with each new book, I had to consider the backstory first. What was happening at Kent’s workplace that needed resolving? Was there anything at his sanctuary to consider? Then there were the main characters – his stepmother, Niamh, who started her own catering business. Gemma, his former lover and sidekick, was never far from his side. His continuing conflict with his manager, Danni, evolved with every book. Other women wandered in and out of his life. Some stayed a little longer.

Then there was his best friend Mike Turner, the retired scenes of crime officer and source of some of the best humour in the stories. When those two got together on the veranda of his beachside bungalow, the fun and humour reached new levels.

I love writing their scenes together.

It’s like writing two books

First, there’s the drama of Kent’s life and those close to him, and a murder to solve.

But the backstory gave me running themes – his romantic dalliances and the effect on those around him. At work, he struggled with government spending cuts, staffing issues and poor management. His sanctuary sometimes threw up problems. He started to outsmart the local police detectives as he solved the murders.

But I loved the backstory issues, tempting Kent with new lovers, discovering more about his past, what made him tick and the results of some of his indiscretions when he was younger. The characters around him could point out his bad points, the blind spots in his character he’d never see. These characters offered alternative opinions and values, adding to the tension.

Elements of the backstory can disrupt his investigations, throw him a curve, land him in deep water. He’s forced into difficult decisions, but that’s just how I like it.

The harder he has to work, the more people he comes into conflict with, the more exciting the story.

The backstory often allowed me to have the occasional cliff hanger ending. The murders are always solved and loose ends tied up. But what’s going on behind the scenes is life. It doesn’t fit into neat boxes. It can’t always be predicted or understood. And it can come along and bite you, as Kent often discovers.

I can spend days, weeks sometimes, working out where the backstory issues would be three or six months time after the end of the last story. What were the outstanding issues to address and how? What issues and drama would they raise?

Once these are decided, it’s time to write.Writer

As I don’t plan ahead, it’s all exciting, not knowing what’s going to happen.

I don’t worry how the backstory might affect the murder investigations. Kent begins his investigations under the circumstances he’s living in. If there are problems at the sanctuary or at the office, he works around them while he investigates. Sometimes it means sleuthing during work time, which brings its own conflicts and ethical issues, adding to the rich broth of the backstory.

Best of all, as the series progresses, Kent starts to realise the effect solving murders has on those around him. His brushes with death have left wounds that are difficult to heal, creating tensions and emotions he’d always buried to maintain his sanity.

And when something from his past leaps up to bite him on the backside, his murder investigations can become very personal indeed. But that’s a story for another day…


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A hero for today

Have you ever read a book or watched a TV programme and wished you could write something as good?

Inspector MorseNeither had I until I saw the original Inspector Morse series. The superb characterisation, complex and intriguing plots, and the beautiful Oxford settings captivated me. About the same time, BBC 1 aired the Miss Marple series, adapted from Agatha Christie’s books.

Both programmes evoked the same emotion and desire to write a complex murder mystery.

At this point, I should tell you I was already a writer. Not a successful one, unless you include the national short story competition I won at the age of 12. That early enthusiasm and promise never quite materialised into something a publisher would want or take – until Morse and Marple got under my skin.

I sensed a brighter future. But first, I needed a hero for my murder mysteries – someone different, someone flawed but principled, charismatic and up to the job.

Police officer or private investigator?

While I’d worked with the police many times as an environmental health officer (EHO), I had no idea how they investigated murders. With DNA evidence making its mark, I thought I’d leave it those who understood such things.

Sue GraftonEqually, I had no idea how private investigators worked. Sue Grafton’s first novel, A is for Alibi, featuring PI Kinsey Millhone tempted me to create my own investigator. The character was feisty, sassy, funny and quite ruthless in completing any job she took. The books were a joy to read.

Could I create a male version of Kinsey?

It took some time for Kent Fisher to evolve. The name took almost as long to create, but that’s a subject for another day. He was tough, determined, single-minded, hopeless in love, and had a good stock of witty one-liners.

But was he flawed?

In his first outings, he was more like Rambo than Morse. That’ll teach me to make him a former paratrooper. He was married to an unsuitable woman. While it seemed like a good idea at the time for extra conflict, I couldn’t imagine him falling for such a woman. Net result – I failed to write with any conviction.

My attempts to make him a PI fared no better.

Thanks to my healthy appetite for Dick Francis, that left me with one option. Many of his heroes were ordinary people, drawn into adventures and investigations that often put them in grave danger.

Kent Fisher became an EHO

Kent Fisher and ColumboAn environmental health officer conjured up an image of a person in a suit, carrying a clipboard and talking like some dreary, faceless bureaucrat. That was how TV writers saw them at the time. It was hardly an image to inspire readers, was it?

So I gave Kent a past as a hunt saboteur and environmental protestor, who chained himself to trees and bulldozers to stop developers destroying the countryside he loved. This ensured he had as many enemies as he had supporters, offering plenty of storylines for the future.

Without thinking, I knew he would live in an animal sanctuary, confirming his dedication to the natural world.

While I doubt if he’s anyone’s idea of a detective, to me he’s a hero for today. He’s an ordinary person who solves the most complex and difficult murders I can dream up.

This posed another challenge – how would an EHO solve a murder? Let’s be honest, during my long career, no one has ever walked into the council offices and asked me to investigate a murder.

I’ll admit I’ve wanted to murder many awkward members of the public, councillors and restaurateurs and publicans over the years. Luckily, I can now do that in my novels.

Finally it came to me – disguise a murder as a fatal work accident. Kent Fisher goes in to investigate with the police. They pass the investigation to him and he uncovers a murder.

Simple.

But no one believes him, of course, so he has to solve it himself.

It led me to the highly original title of No Accident, which was traditionally published in June 2016.

A fresh approach to the traditional murder mystery

Thoroughly modern, with contemporary themes about protecting wildlife and the environment, Kent Fisher was like no other detective out there. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you like the traumatised police inspectors with pen-pushing superiors that seem to dominate crime fiction these days.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the part the characters and backstory would play in the hearts and minds of readers. I simply set out to build a world around Kent and fill it with strong, engaging characters that would impact on his life and work.

HarveyAnd that’s before we get to the rescue dog he adopted. Named Columbo after Kent’s favourite TV detective, the West Highland white terrier would become a firm favourite with readers and reviewers.

With his personal life as complex as the murders Kent solved, the story drew in people who didn’t normally read crime. Readers cared about these people, about this world Kent lived in, as much as they enjoyed trying to solve the murders.

But that’s something for another post…


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If you’d like to find out more about the Kent Fisher murder mystery series, then please take a look around my website.

Or sign up to the Kent Fisher Readers Group for more exclusive information, insights, updates and recommendations. Just add your details below.

The Death on the Downs by Simon Brett

22nd April 2021.

Having enjoyed the first book in the Fethering village mysteries series, I was keen to see what neighbours Carole and Jude would get up to in this second outing. United by curiosity and sleuthing, this unlikely duo once again joins forces after Carole discovers a bag of human bones in a barn while sheltering from a storm.

Attention focuses on the nearby village of Weldisham, where the locals have plenty of secrets and animosities to hide. It doesn’t take long for both Jude and Carole to investigate different strands of the murder, arriving at the same conclusion in a deadly climax.

This is cosy mystery writing at its best. The characters are beautifully drawn and realised, each providing their own unique view of the world they inhabit. Though very different in nature, Carole and Jude work well together. The author never misses an opportunity to poke fun at the many conventions and traditions that go with village life and dictate behaviour. The dry, gentle humour pervades the whole story, helping to lighten the darker moments.

There’s no rush or car chases, none of the traumatised detectives who seem to populate most crime fiction these days, and no excessive violence or swearing. This is a gentle, funny and endearing murder mystery that’s as much about the characters and idiosyncrasies of village life as it is about solving a complex murder.

If you enjoy a cosy mystery, this is about as warm, entertaining and beautifully written as it gets.

Description

It wasn’t the rain that upset Fethering resident Carole Seddon during her walk on the Downs, or the dilapidated barn in which she was forced to seek shelter. No, what upset her was the human skeleton she discovered there, neatly packed into two blue fertiliser bags . . .

Amateur sleuths Carole and Jude go to the small hamlet of Weldisham where gossips quickly identify the corpse as Tamsin Lutteridge, a young woman who disappeared from the village months before. But why is Tamsin’s mother so certain that her daughter is still alive? As Jude sets out to discover what really happened to Tamsin, Carole digs deeper into Weldisham’s history and the bitter relationships simmering beneath the village’s gentle facade.

Death on the Downs by Simon Brett

He weaves a mystery that can match any of our best thriller writers

In another wonderful review for No Love Lost, Colin Garrow says

Robert Crouch manages to create a delightfully complex plot with twists and turns galore and more suspects than you can shake a doggy snack at. The plot is his best yet and kept me enthralled from start to finish. With a writing style that includes witty one-liners and precise plotting, he weaves a mystery that can match any of our best thriller writers.

 

 

The plot is absolutely fantastic

In her review of No Love Lost, Chelle from Curled Up With A Good Book says,

Each time I read a new Kent Fisher mystery I think it’s my favourite, and then the next one trumps it! I love the series so much, adore Kent (the complex character that he is) and the other characters, love the mystery and intrigue and enjoy the writing style so much.

No Love Lost Launch

An addictive mystery series

Yvonne at Me and My Books believes No Love Lost is part of an addictive mystery series. Brilliant from start to finish.

The author really has woven a wonderful tale of mystery, revenge, deceit and also a tragedy. It was a brilliant book and I think it may be my favourite so far and also the one that shocked me the most with events. It draws things from the past and the present and they have been twisted and turned into such an addictive read.

No Love Lost Launch

A cracking television series

Karen Cole of Hair Past A Freckle believes the Kent Fisher mysteries would make a cracking television series.

The superb characterisation, evocative landscape descriptions and the witty dialogue all perfectly complement the intriguing cases that Kent attempts to solve – and as always, Columbo the Westie steals every scene he is in!

No Love Lost is the most emotionally affecting story so far.

No Love Lost Launch

Latest Reviews for No Love Lost

Lacy at Lacy Ace Reviews confesses:

I would be happy to be left on a desert island with a collection of Kent Fisher mysteries! Another absolute must read!

Read the full review here.

Linda at Linda’s Book Bag says:

No Love Lost is an absolute cracker of a book that deserves a wide audience. I found it hugely exciting, cleverly plotted and very entertaining.

Read the full review here.

No Love Lost Launch