Just What the Doctor Ordered by Colin Watson

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of cozy mysteries
★    ★    ★  

This is what happens when Agatha Christie meets Shakespeare. Not, you know, the MacBeth Shakespeare will allusions to guilt and all that. No, this is Comedy of Errors kind of Shakespeare where everyone is Quirky, people run around pretending all sorts of things, and there’s altogether more than the average amount of bawdy jokes.

The short of it is that someone is accosting the women of Flaxborough (rather unsuccessfully, thankfully). From the descriptions, it seems that the perpetrator is likely a bit older, more than a bit ineffective, and displays an unusual, crab-like gait when running away. At a picnic for the village elderly, it seems as if the problem was indirectly solved, only the attacks resume that very evening. Inspector Purbright is on the case, however, and soon tracks down the identical connection in these cases, even if he can’t make his senior officer, Mr. Chubb, believe him.

Written in 1969, it is very, very much of the time period, being ‘liberated’ with all the double-entendres but very limited in its attention to women’s issues. I mean, at the end of the day, 2018, we’re all just a little bit tired we still have to have a #MeToo movement, aren’t we? So read this after doing some time travel, or after a couple cocktails and a dose of forbearance. I will note that there’s a female character, Miss Teatime, that plays a role earlier in the series (I gather that it might have been more adversarial), who ends up solving the case long before Inspector Fulbright. So I was inclined to go easy on dear old Mr. Watson because he seems so very time period, but reasonably enlightened at the same time.

It is cleverly written, with many little witticisms, and there’s a scene at the senior picnic that had me laughing out loud despite myself. When the stiff Miss Pollock holds a competition for flower naming, Mrs. Crunkinghorn enthusiastically participates:

“She held aloft a dandelion.
‘That’s naught but a poor little piss-a-bed,’ declared old Mrs. Crunkinghorn promptly and with disdain…
‘Ah, what’s this next one, I wonder?’
‘In her hand was a straggle of stalk from which hung several diminutive white bells.
‘Tickle-titty,’ said Mrs. Crunkinghorn, without hesitation. ‘That’s what that is, me old duck.’
Hastily, Miss Polllock put it down and selected what she was sure was a perfectly innocent wood anemone. Again, Mrs. Crunkinghorn was the sole responding voice. “Poke-me-gently. Very good for green sickness, my mother always reckoned.'”

This mystery itself isn’t particularly mysterious. There is a red herring or two, but nothing too confusing. The sad thing is that it will likely be a plot much more familiar to us in this century then in the prior. Not a bad little read at all; amusing and quick, as long as you can move yourself into a spot to ignore sexual assault being played for laughs.

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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