If everything works out according to plan, you should be reading this post while I am on a nice vacation at sea, sailing from New York City to Quèbec, Canada, a truly nice city that I last visited many years ago. I'm sure the nice readers who follow this blog will wish me a bon voyage and a nice journey. "Nice" indeed. Such a nice word, isn't it? And yet, that very niceness (oh good, he's getting to the point now!) can be elusive at best and perhaps somewhat dangerous, particularly in a murder case. Consider the doings at the very nice Hotel Devereux in the English village of Littlehampton. The owner, Miss Naismith, likes to attract a nice class of paying guest. She really didn't bargain for A Nice Class of Corpse. That's the title of a clever mystery by a contemporary author, Simon Brett, who continues to produce literate and funny traditional mysteries. It was published in 1986, the first novel in a series featuring an elderly British widow, Mrs. Melita Pargeter, who tends to find herself in unexpectedly mysterious situations – and who has her own way of clearing them up and solving the mysteries. A Nice Class of Corpse is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Since 1975, author Simon Brett has given us - so far - at least four different series of mysteries, including eight books about Mrs. Pargeter, a remarkably capable person with her own secrets and her own methods of obtaining help, when necessary, to solve the occasional robbery or murder, both of which she will encounter at the Hotel Devereux. Mrs. Pargeter, having been widowed for several years (and having been left a good deal of money by her late husband) is looking for a place to settle down quietly. She applies for – and is accepted for – a room at the Hotel Devereux. Her first qualms come when she meets the owner, Miss Naismith. Brett describes her as “an unnervingly refined lady in her early fifties.” Mrs. Pargeter is barely unpacked when an elderly resident of the hotel is found dead at the foot of the stairs. Of course, Miss Naismith is sure it was merely an accident – and one in terrible taste too, I might add – but Mrs. Pargeter isn’t so sure. And that death is going to be followed by another "accidental' death and the apparent theft of a guest’s jewelry. There is something going on at the Devereux which Miss Naismith doesn’t seem able to control – in fact, doesn’t even seem willing to acknowledge is taking place, and she strongly resists efforts to get the police involved. Mrs. Pargeter, who has little sympathy with that attitude, although she has little use for the police herself, decides it’s time for her to do some investigating of her own.
Simon Brett keeps the action moving nicely, and he does use a lot of humor in some of his comments and descriptions. As for Mrs. Pargeter, I find her quite a refreshing character. She certainly has secrets of her own – as do most of the other residents – but Mrs. Pargeter’s past proves to be quite useful to her when she must investigate the events at the Hotel Devereux without unnecessarily involving the police. A Nice Class of Corpse is a very pleasant way to spend a nice quiet evening.