Books: Country wiles
Joan Smith on bucolic butchery; Honey-Dew by Louise Doughty Simon & Schuster, pounds 10
Known for her human rights activism and writing on subjects such as atheism and feminism, Joan Smith is a columnist, critic and novelist. An Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and a regular contributor to BBC radio, she has written five detective novels, two of which have been filmed by the BBC.
Saturday 28 March 1998
Louise Doughty's new novel recognises these conventions and sets out to break them. Her corpses, the middle-aged Mr and Mrs Cowper, are the first characters we meet. They have already started to decay. There are no tidy cadavers here for the maid to dust round, and it soon becomes obvious who killed them. An elderly spinster, Doughty's equivalent of Miss Marple, is as interested in completing her own novel, in which the victim is choked to death by the snails which crawl into his mouth, as she is in solving the murder in her Rutland village.
The novel is narrated, in part, by a local journalist who regards the murders as her chance to sell a big story to the nationals. Obsessed by the minutiae of their own lives, and what they can get out of the story, none of the characters shows much interest in the abstraction - justice - which motivated Christie's sleuths. So why should the reader, especially if he or she is expecting a traditional crime novel, keep reading?
The answer is, to some extent, the picture Doughty paints of life in an English village. Her portrayal of its loneliness, of a milieu whose inhabitants regard even immediate neighbours with wary suspicion, rings true.
One character, looking at an old photograph of the village, is struck by the number of shops, long closed, and the way people used to talk in streets which are now deserted. The community Christie described in the 1930s has disappeared, leaving empty houses whose inhabitants commute to the town: a setting in which the double murder Doughty describes could easily take place.
Something is seriously wrong in the Cowper household, and has been for years before the stabbings, but no one outside the tight-knit family takes the trouble to read the signs. Doughty has created a setting in which violent death tears apart the social fabric, as in a golden-age crime novel, but only to reveal how strained it was in the first place. Order cannot be restored because it was always an illusion, so the novel's satisfactions lie elsewhere: in the taut prose, the voices of the characters, and the way Doughty uses a tired formula to satirise sentimental notions about country life. It is also a darkly comic and disturbing reminder of the messiness of real life, and of people's ability to absorb the most startling events - even murder.
The Microsoft mogul told fans a few home truths during his Reddit AMA
Life & Style blogs
Snapchat removed the Best Friends list feature and 'stalkers' are upset
Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
Eight-year-old girl Camilla Lisant suggests possible cancer treatment to her scientist father over the dinner table
Lack of medically trained staff leaves NHS 111 phone service struggling to cope, insider claims
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
- 1 Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...
£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...