I did not expect to read a Readers Imbibing Peril book right away, but I did, and here it is: Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand, the first Inspector Cockerill story. Harumph. I might give up right here. It starts off all right. The extended family – not exactly all related, but having holidayed together for years, just like a family – of Pendock, lord of the manor in tiny village of Pigeonsford are together in March, I think. Can’t remember. Still winter, as there is snow which melts during the day. An annoying neighbor has dropped by to paint her umpty-umth view of the church from Pendock’s porch, though really what she wants is Pendock. There’s Lady Hunt and her two 20-something grand-daughters, Venetia and Fran. Venetia is married to Henry. Fran is admired by James Nicholl and Pendock himself, though he’s been more like an uncle all these years. Then there’s the reliable butler and the annoying neighbor’s annoying cousin, Pippi le May, who’s an actress. The previous summer a lady’s maid was beheaded in the woods behind the house. It seems to have greatly disturbed Pendock, but Fran doesn’t care about that and keeps mentioning it. Well, we don’t have long to wait. Just around midnight Bunsen the butler, returning from his sick sister’s house discovers a body in a ditch near the house. He tries to wake Pendock by throwing stones at his window instead of entering the house and running upstairs. Daft, I think, but then everyone behaves this way. He succeeds in wakening Lady Hunt who then wakens Pendock. Lady Hunt is frantic because Fran is not in her bed. Is the body hers? Nope. It’s the annoying neighbor much to everyone’s relief. But Fran’s hat has been perched on her decapitated and then replaced head. Not so cozy.
Kind of gross, but with a sick sense of humor no one in the book displays. Inspector Cockerill, once again friends with a family with a murderer in its midst, displays a lot of smart looks and wiggling eyebrows, but not much erudition and he carefully keeps most of the clues to himself. Not that there are many. And when you get to the end and learn what various characters did at various points you want to bang your head against a wall. No one, you would say (if you’re anything like me), would do that! That was a damn stupid thing to do. And when you discover your solution is one of the false solutions, but could have been much better than the actual solution, well, you just want to lie down with cold compress. Does she get better? Trying to remember if there are any clues that truly reveal the murderer, but no. Once again I could probably rewrite it so that at least a couple of them could have been the murderer without much difficulty. And maybe given them a motive along the way.
One of the problems I had, and I don’t think this is too spoilery, the second victim appears in a summer house surrounded by snow with no footprints other than the constable’s who found the body. Apparently an impossible crime! But no, don’t get excited, the answer is the footprints were snowed over in about an hour of further snowfall after the murder. However, elsewhere the snow appears to be a good 10-12 inches deep. Even if it’s only 4 or 5 inches, an hour’s worth of snow is not going to cover up those prints. Annoying. Bad writing. Bad! I’ll give her maybe one more chance, though why I’m not sure. And how she got so full of herself, with two such lame solutions, I’ll never understand.