Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #40: A Nasty Bit of Murder by C.F. Roe
Jean Monstrose the doctor and accidental detective: cool, calm, level-headed, dependable, trusted by patients and local detectives alike.
Jean Montrose the wife and mother: clueless, doormat, unappreciated, dumbass.
Basically, I liked half this book. Jean is a doctor in a small Scottish town. She has a small practice with a friend, and does house calls. She lives with her husband and two (mostly) grown daughters. She walks into a house call to visit a sick baby to discover the father missing, the mother in horrified shock, and the baby murdered.
The lead detective is fairly new to town, so he enlists Jean to help him, since she knows the family, the neighbors, and basically the whole town. The father is the obvious suspect, since he’s known to be a drunk with a temper, but he’s been missing for several days and pretty quickly, a disturbing number of suspects crop up. (I mean really…how many people would want to kill a baby?) The neighbors are never what they seem, everybody has a dark backstory, suspicious in-laws start drifting around, and the plot generally thickens. Most of the characters are interesting, and you really get a feel for this small town and the worry the residents are feeling.
However. When Jean leaves work and goes home, it’s ridiculous. She waits on her oafish husband hand and foot, and he either scolds or ignores her. Her daughters are twits, and they seem to only interact with their mother when they’re setting the table. The rest of the time they’re sniping at each other, giggling about boys, and keeping the secret that their father is possibly seeing another woman. I didn’t understand at all why a smart, capable woman would instantly revert to 50s housewife as soon as she walked in the door. When her husband leaves her for a younger model, she immediately blames herself, thinking that she didn’t take good enough care of him. She’s ashamed and depressed, and stops caring about the case. It’s a weird little interlude in the book, where the mystery that I was interested in took a back seat, and the side of the character that made me bonkers took center stage.
One other thing really bothered me: you spend the whole book basically in Jean’s head. Watching her make tea, talking to patients, driving her car to various places (lots of driving), what she makes her ungrateful family for dinner, talking to suspects, talking to the cops…you get a lot of detail about everything she does. But then there’s one of those lame TV procedural cheats, where she asks the pathologist to run a specific test on one of the bodies (oh yeah: people keep dying), but it just glosses over that scene. You don’t find out what the test is, or why she wants it, or what she suspects. It’s one of those “I don’t want to say too much until I’m sure” moments that the Great Detective usually pulls, but when you’ve spent the whole rest of the story listening to her dither about whether to take Oak Street or 10th Avenue to get to dinner, it really stands out.
Of course, it’s the test results coming in that jolt Jean out of her funk and get her back on the case. Things wrap up quickly from there. I still can’t decide if I liked it. The writing was fine, sometimes Jean was a likeable character, the mystery was interesting…but man, sometimes I just wanted to slap everybody involved.