Miss Marple’s Neighborhood

Small-town English villages haven’t seemed to change much since the days of Miss Marple, at least as depicted in Kate Charles’ five Book of Psalms mysteries. Everyone knows everyone, any change is suspect, gossip is queen and no good deed ever goes unpunished.

The gossip had been rather thin on the ground in the “small, rather undistinguished Norfolk village” of Walston until several newcomers move into town. The new rector, Father Stephen Thorncroft, is resented by some for not carrying out his duties exactly as his predecessor did. Then, Thorncroft’s new wife has attracted attention in the form of obscene calls. Overseeing the town’s affairs is its resident busybody, Enid Bletsoe, who goes ballistic when the young mother she was befriending turns out to have a woman lover. She reports her to a social worker, who later is found dead.

Charles has a way of creating characters that you feel for as well as characters you’d dearly like to see dead in a ditch. She expertly turns the screws on the good guys until her detecting couple, lawyer David Middleton-Brown and artist Lucy Kingsley arrive on the scene. The red herrings are numerous in this cozy-style mystery, and Charles is expert in highlighting the deliciously unsavory aspects of village politics (delicious, that is, so long as you don’t live there).

A dissenting note should be included, however, about the relationship between David and Lucy. After four books, it becomes apparent that Lucy is intelligent, quick-witted and most of the time a complete pain in the tucus. She’s a rabid vegetarian who does not appreciate how far David is willing to go to accommodate her, including stringing him along thus far for the slimmest of reasons (a bad, brief marriage that happened some time before). He seems to put up with it far more than he should, and we know little about what he sees in her that would make him put up with her.

It’s not a good sign to read a good story, but wish that the case had been solved by someone else. “Evil Angels Among Them” is a classic cozy in the style of Robert Barnard and Ann Granger, but I do wish it had been solved by their detectives as well.