‘The Marlow Murder Club’ is a cosy mystery that requires substantial suspension of disbelief. To enjoy it, I found that I had to imagine it as taking place in a parallel universe, one where the Police embrace and come to depend on the help of three civilians with no experience who insert themselves into the investigation rather than charging them with obstruction of justice and or investigating them as suspects. I could do that. I’ve had lots of practice watching Peter Thorogood’s ‘Death In Paradise’ TV series. ‘The Marlow Murder Club’ has the same level of reality with the difference being it’s set in an imaginary Marlow rather than an imaginary Caribbean island.
The plot also pushes the boundaries of the plausible but it does actually work. As one of the main characters points out, solving the murders is like solving a crossword puzzle filled with clues that sound like nonsense until you solve them and are then so obvious you wonder why you didn’t see them immediately. For the most part, the plot moved along well enough but there were points, especially before the Great Insight and the Big Reveal where it dragged a bit.
The strength of the book is meant to be its humour and the engaging characters of the three amateur women who come together to solve the murder. Those were certainly the things that I enjoyed most and which kept me reading to the end.
Some of the humour was laugh-out-loud funny. Much of it was based on observations about growing old and being alone that made me smile. All the moments of comedy worked well but there weren’t quite enough of them to compensate for the implausible plot and the reality-defying scenario.
The three women are interesting and different. In a television series, with the right actors, they would be the reason you watched each episode. We have the seventy-seven-year-old patrician woman, sharp, intelligent, a professional setter of crossword puzzles and recognised by everyone but herself as that eccentric old woman who lives alone in the big house by the river, who rides a bike everywhere and always wears a big cape. Then we have the solid, dependable, not-so-good with-people-but-doesn’t-miss-much woman who walks dogs for a living. Finally, we have the Vicar’s wife, who doesn’t know she’s a yummy mummy, who is struggling with a loss of identity other than wife, mother and housewife which she compensates for by trying to excel at being all those things and who initially comes across as timid but eventually rediscovers her inner-lioness,
There’s a lot of potential there. The dialogue between them is often the source of the best humour. I certainly cared more about them than the solution of the murders. But… I didn’t think the writing was quite up to the job. These women felt like they were drawn with a Magic Marker rather than an HB pencil.
I’m sure this will make (and will be made into) great TV but I think I’ll wait for that to happen rather than pre-ordering the next book in the series.
I listened to the audiobook version. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.