J.M. Hall – A Spoonful of Murder (2022)

Preamble

As I read and write and think a lot about detective and crime fiction, I’m starting to put together quick, bite-size reviews of the books in these genres. Sadly, capacity is too limited to cover all the films and TV series I watch too, but these might be added in the future

The ‘see also’ section below gives you a hint of the story, its themes, and its style, and is spoiler-free, but reviews themselves aren’t guaranteed to be thus!

If you’re interested in reading my academic work about detective and crime fiction (free PDFs available), check it out here.


See also

These lists capture other detective/crime stories and characters that I thought of as I was reading this piece. I won’t explain why, to avoid spoilers, but they’re associations and not ‘if you liked this, then you’ll love…’ recommendations!

  • Richard Osman’s detective fiction (so I’m told)
  • Rosemary and Thyme
  • The Lavender Ladies Detective Agency

Review (4 out of 5)

Note this is not to be confused with the YA book of the same name by Robin Stevens (which I now absolutely want to read)! Instead, this book is about female characters in their retirement, juggling loyalties to family and friends as they investigate the death of an old colleague, sometimes against their own better judgment.

The challenges of this time of life, of ageing and slow decline, and the death of old friends, and the independence and complications of children and family life, are very well drawn. There is a real empathy and honesty in some of the descriptions of how older people can be exploited and mistreated, by unscrupulous outsiders or by their own families. Anyone with older relatives will recognise the anxieties that go with keeping them safe.

The mystery itself is a good one, with a few different threads well combined in the set-up to allow the main protagonists—a group of retired schoolteachers and friends—to pursue their own lines of inquiry. Their associated B-plots round out the picture in their reflections on motherhood and parent-child relationships. As a narrative whole, it’s well constructed and a nice easy read, notwithstanding the real emotional weight behind the characterisations.

I found it a little hard to keep the main investigating characters straight, struggling to remember which name had which biography. I think this may have been because there was a lack of impactful physical descriptions for them, so my mental pictures of them weren’t very clear, but the voices for their own sections or chapters could perhaps have been more distinct. This detracted from the asymmetrical information pictures each of them was supposed to have, from which some of the tension of good detective stories always arises.


J.M. Hall’s A Spoonful of Murder was Book 52 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.

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