Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Bones in the Belfry by Suzette A. Hill

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Bones in the Belfry by Suzette A. Hill. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Bones in the Belfry by Suzette A. Hill

Bones in the Belfry by
A Francis Oughterard Mystery

Soho Constable (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-510-5 (1569475105)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-510-2 (9781569475102)
Publication Date: August 2008
List Price: $24.95

Review: Bones in the Belfry is the second book (episode?) by Suzette A. Hill to feature the adventures of Francis Oughterard, vicar of St. Botolph's in the small English town of Molehill, Surrey, his dog Bouncer, and his ever-so-proper cat Maurice. The British editions of this book are alternately subtitled An Unfortunate Case of a Lost Masterpiece or The Case of the Vicar and the Missing Masterpiece.

The story takes place in 1958 and picks up following the events of the first book in the series, A Load of Old Bones. F.O. (as Bouncer and Maurice refer to him) continues to fear the day he may be exposed for killing his troublesome parishioner Elizabeth Fotherington in Foxford Wood. An old school mate, Nicholas Ingaza, had given him an alibi and now he wants a favor in return: for F.O. to temporarily store a couple of paintings at the vicarage. It turns out, of course, the paintings had been stolen, are considered very valuable, and their disappearance are actively being investigated by the authorities. When a certain mystery writer, Mrs. Tubbly Pole, turns up in town to write a fictional version of the unsolved murder in Foxford Wood, F.O. tries to divert her. But she wants to get a sense of the area, including the belfry where the stolen paintings are being stored, so F.O. moves the paintings to his sister's house where she promptly (and inadvertently) gives one away. Mischief and mayhem ensue as F.O. tries to retrieve the painting, deal with ever so inquisitive Mrs. Tubbly Pole, and return his life to relative normalcy.

Bones in the Belfry is a quirky, engaging, and utterly charming book. It is not necessary to read the prior book to appreciate how the vicar came to be in his current situation. The dog and cat (who each have their own points of view expressed here) fill the reader in on the backstory. But classifying this story as a mystery is a bit of a stretch. There are few, if any, of the standard elements that typically characterize a novel as a mystery.

The narrative is intelligent and witty and every so often bordering on the absurd but always a delight to read. The three points of view are clearly complementary with the vicar giving his (often emotional) version of events and the cat and dog providing their (often more objective) take. The author wisely doesn't give the animals any more credit to do more than they can; for example, they cannot read or manipulate objects in the way humans can. But they are observant and their perspective on the activities of their master is both entertaining and insightful.

Hill is clearly planning a multi-part series of books here with the final sentence of Bones in the Belfry setting the stage for the next in the series. Based solely on the events presented here, it's a book worth looking forward to.

Special thanks to Soho Press for providing an ARC of Bones in the Belfry for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Francis Oughterard was the contented vicar of Molehill when he accidentally strangled a lady parishioner. A sleazy art dealer gave him an alibi, and Maurice-his victim's cynical cat-and Bouncer-a neighbor's dog-rescued him from police suspicion. Now he is called upon to return the favor by storing stolen paintings in the church belfry. The intrigue mounts as hapless F.O. bumbles through confrontations. Maurice and Bouncer each contribute their version of events.

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