Murder in the Museum

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Between 1975 and 1999, Simon Brett wrote seventeen mystery novels featuring Charles Paris, an alcoholic actor, as detective, and six with Mrs. Melita Pargetter, a thief’s widow, as sleuth. With a new century, Brett introduced a series in which two middle-aged women, newcomers to Fethering, a West Sussex village, are his amateur detectives. Murder in the Museum is the fourth of these British cozies.

Carole Seddon is a quietly unassuming retiree of the Home Office; her new friend and neighbor Jude is a gregarious bohemian whose background, travels, and last name are objects of continuing speculation. Carol has become a trustee of a nearby tourist site: Bracketts House, former home and now shrine to Esmond Chadleigh, a poet, novelist, and essayist who died in 1967. Protective of his reputation are his seemingly dotty daughter and ineffectual grandson, who attempt to forestall the trustees’ support of an American professor’s plan to write a Chadleigh biography, convinced it will be a muckraking, revisionist work. Family and trustees also come into conflict over the estate’s shaky finances and Chadleigh’s faltering reputation, but when old skeletal remains accidentally are discovered in the garden of the property, questions about the past take precedence.

The bucolic environs of Fethering are further roiled as family secrets, previously submerged animosities, and old rivalries move to the fore. What ensues is Brett’s formula for his Fethering series: The discovery of a presumed crime leads either to the exposure of another or provokes a new murder; Carole and Jude embark on a private investigation that outpaces the official one; the West Sussex location becomes integral to the unfolding case; the intrepid women, not at all armchair detectives, take risks that eventually involve them in a life-threatening situation; and Brett’s wit tempers the increasing tension.

In sum, Murder in the Museum is a carefully delineated puzzle with suspense, a varied cast, a rapidly paced narrative, and two likable sleuths. It is an entertaining addition to the Fethering series.