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CR3 #69: Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet

(St. Martin's Press was kind enough to send me an advance copy of this book via a giveaway at Goodreads.com. Fear not--my scathingly honest criticism cannot be swayed by free gifties.)

Wicked Autumn reminds me very strongly of an Agatha Christie mystery. It takes place in a small English village in the countryside, the protagonist is somewhat unlikely (a MI5 spy-turned-vicar), the murder victim is almost universally disliked, and there is no sex, no swearing, and nothing even the slightest bit provocative.

I don't mean to imply that the book was bad. On the contrary, it was a very serviceable mystery story. Max Tudor--former spy and now the vicar of Nether Monkslip--finds himself at the center of a mystery when the town's pushiest, most unpleasant society matron turns up murdered during the local harvest festival. There's no dearth of suspects, since Wanda Batton-Smythe had a wonderful way of making people hate her with very little effort. Although Max wants to stay out of the whole thing, his MI5 instincts can't help but draw him in.

The characters (aside from Max himself, who is the tiniest bit dull) are the kind of charming eccentrics that populate BBC sitcoms, and the plot proceeds along at a logical speed. The clues were available, but not obvious, and the solution to the mystery was not shocking or out of left field. I didn't figure it out until Max did, which is a win for any mystery story. I thought Max's back story should either have been more prominent or referred to less, since it didn't really add much to the narrative. I suppose since this is ostensibly the first in a series, it was intended to be some added exposition to develop the character. I felt that his past was a little misused--he was a charming, witty, and very sharp vicar, but for a former spy he seemed a bit dim.

As I said before, this is not a bad book at all. It is exactly the kind of book my grandmother loves, and it would absolutely be appropriate for slightly older children as well. However, I personally found it a bit tame for my taste.

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