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.
filmFilm producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
voicesJust when you thought you could find a man, get married, and have a baby by the age of 35... it turns out you’re too late, says Grace Dent
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
musicThe 21-year-old beat Ella Eyre and Chlöe Howl to win the honour
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
Life & Style blogs
YouTube: Top trending videos of 2013 - including Tom Daley and Peppa Pig
Chinese scientists 'increasingly confident' about invisibility cloak after making a cat disappear
The rise of goo-goo gadgets: Hey baby, nice wheels!
Maggots in surgeries and out-of-date vaccines: Thousands of patients' lives put at risk by ‘years of basic GP failures’
Pirate Bay sets sail for Ascension Island after SX domain name seized by authorities
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 3 Australia: Gay marriage law reversed by high court less than a week after first weddings
- 4 Exeter to Edinburgh and back in a day: How one fresher's lost bet left him facing a 900-mile round trip
- 5 Australia incest case: Severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
£30000 - £40000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Biomass I...
£45000 - £55000 Per Annum Extensive Benefits Package: Clearwater People Soluti...
£30000 - £42500 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Working in conjunction with ...
£44999 - £60001 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: A Top Tier firm i...