AUTHOR: Alan Beechey

PUBLISHER: Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN: 978-1-4642-0240-7 Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1-4642-0242-1 Trade Paperback


This is the third book in Alan Beechey’s series of amusing mystery novels about Oliver Swithin. These books are hard to describe; they are unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

Let me give you an idea of why I say that. Oliver Swithin is a young man in England who pseudonymously writes a series of children’s books, the Railway Mice series, which features a villainous ferret. Oliver’s books are runaway hits in Britain. His Uncle Tim is a Scotland Yard detective superintendent, and Oliver’s girlfriend is the uniquely beautiful and strong-minded policewoman, Effie Strongitham. Effie works for Uncle Tim.

The first book in the series, An Embarrassment of Corpses, set the tone for the series. It is almost surreal—in a humorous, unexpected way—in the sequence of unlikely but intriguing events. It involves a serial killer (and I hate serial killer books as a rule) who kills one totally unrelated person daily in increasingly peculiar ways. (I think I remember someone being impaled by a javelin, for instance.) That book for me was an absolute delight. The whimsically fantastic series of events eventually made perfect sense, and we had a wonderful time getting to the solution.

The second book, Murdering Ministers, was a dud for me. The mystery takes place in a working-class British church and neighborhood involving some cult-like behavior. It was a downer for me; the bright points of whimsy were completely dulled by the heavy, spirit-crushing environment of the book.

Now comes the third book, A Private Plot. Book One was published in 1997, Book Two in 1999. After 15 years, we get Book Three. Would the bright, funny whimsy of Book One reappear, or would we have another near miss?

The first sentence may give a hint of the answer to that question:

The odd thing about a banana, Oliver Swithin mused as he chased the naked policewoman across the moonlit field, is not that it’s an excellent source of potassium, but that everybody seems to know it is.

In the opening scene, Oliver’s girlfriend Effie has convinced him to disrobe for a bracing naked run through a maze in the village commons at midnight. Someone told her it was an honored ancient fertility rite. They encounter Uncle Tim and his wife, similarly unclothed, who have been told the same story. The two parties, trying desperately not to look at each other, find a dead body hanging from the old hangman’s tree at the center of the maze. Complications, as you might imagine, ensue.

Do you see what I mean about the dizzying but hilarious tone of these books?

As the story goes on, unlikely events occur in a fast-paced but totally understandable sequence. The book is full of snarky comments, humorous references (I’m sure I only caught about half of them, as they are mostly British-based), and increasingly complex relationships and developments.

I loved it—eventually. The first 40 or 50 pages, for all their interesting situations, did not really engage me. Perhaps the snarkiness was a bit heavy. At any rate, the tone lightened and the oddball, outrageous discoveries and revelations pick up at a wonderful rate. There’s an absolutely wonderful climax scene in the Stratford-on-Avon theater that is followed by an even more stunning revelation when you think the story has already wrapped itself up.

You’re not getting a plot outline here. For one thing, you simply would not be able to follow it. And you wouldn’t believe it. Instead, take my word that the plot is all over the place in a wild, unruly but logical way.

Do you need a little more to entice you to read the book? How about this? The book also involves a married couple who are never, ever seen together. Shakespeare’s skeleton comes to the theater incognito. The local writers’ group meetings hide a blackmail-worthy secret. Oh, one more thing: another local resident’s presence is a matter of national security. Really.

If any of this sounds like fun to you, get a copy of this book. And search the Web for a copy of the first book in the series, too.


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