Miles Kington: Book groups can be murder when you lose the plot

'There are certain characters who turn up every time. There's the bossy one, the nerdy one, and the incomer who is just out to make friends'
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The Independent Online

Time for another complete crime novel, I think, starring our resident detective, the 60 Second Sleuth, Inspector Kenneth Braid. Braid is good. Very, very good. In fact, as soon as he gets to the scene of the crime, it never takes him longer than a minute to solve even the most complicated murder. Take, for instance, our new yarn entitled "If Books Could Kill"...

"Her name is Hermione Keen, sir," said Sergeant Comfort, as they sped towards the scene of the crime. "She is 60, lives by herself, writes a bit of journalism and is comfortably off. And she's dead."

"Dead of what?" asked Braid.

"Strangled," said Comfort. "With her own dressing gown cord. They found her when they arrived."

"When who did?"

Comfort sighed. It was hard work sometimes. "The book group. It was one of these reading groups that get together. It was their turn at Hermione's house. Apparently, they all choose one book at a time, and then read it and discuss it ..."

"I know, I know," said Braid. "Mrs Braid is a member of one of these groups. What book were they going to discuss?"

They soon found out when they got there, because Duncan Fisher was there to tell them. Duncan Fisher was a tall, effete, middle-aged man who had once worked in the theatre and was still mildly homosexual.

"It was dreadful," he said. "Hermione was lying on her sitting room floor, on that awful brown carpet of hers, and her tongue was lolling out in a way that made you want to say: 'Pull yourself together, woman!' and she had this ghastly dressing gown cord round ..."

"Thank you, Mr Fletcher," said Braid. "And what book had you all been reading?"

"What? Oh, it was an Iris Murdoch. Hermione had chosen it. Dreadful rubbish. I am sorry if you like the Murdoch oeuvre, Inspector, but it was rubbish. Rupert for the masses, Iris for the classes, I always say, but it's rubbish either way."

"And what books had you been reading in the previous, say, six meetings?"

"Let me see now. There was a tiresome Louis de Bernieres novel which I can't remember the name of. There was a modern Portuguese classic, which made me worry about the Portuguese a lot. There was that Swedish detective novel. There was a chick lit novel which was supposed to appeal to men as well as women, but only succeeded in alienating both sexes. There was ..."

"You didn't really like any of these books, did you?" said Braid. "Makes me wonder why you bothered to turn up at all."

"Hermione was behind a lot of the choices," he said. "If someone was unsure what to recommend, she'd always prompt them and she usually got her way. The only exception, last month, was when someone bravely insisted that we all reread an old Agatha Christie ..."

"Let me guess," said Braid. "Murder on the Orient Express?"

"How on earth did you know?"

"One thing I have learnt from my wife," said Braid, "is that there are certain characters who turn up at every book group. There's the bossy one that gets people to take her choices. There's the nerdy one who looks up authors on the internet and distributes study notes. There's the incomer, who is just out to make friends. There's the effete, unmarried arty one who is always gay ..."

"What has all this got to do with anything?"

"Murder on the Orient Express is about a group who decide to share the guilt, and risk, of murder. They all want one person dead. So they kill them. But imagine if the person you want dead is the manipulative head of a book group ... And the book group is inspired by Agatha Christie to do it as a group ..."

"Are you suggesting that we got together and did Hermione in?" said Duncan, trying to look appalled.

It was the same look that he tried on the jury nine months later, when the whole reading group appeared in court. It did not work then, either.

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