December has become my month for Nancy Spain - regardless of when I buy her books, she feels like a wintery kind of read to me. This is undoubtedly because of the slapstick/pantomime elements she brings to her mysteries.
'R in the Month' is easily my favourite of the 3 I've read so far too - 'Death Goes on Skis' took some getting into before I loved it, and 'Cinderella Goes to the Morgue' had a pantomime setting that invaded everything. 'R in the Month' has all the overdrawn elements and dislikable characters I associate with Nancy Spain but the characters also seem more feasible somehow (which is quite something with this author).
We're in a grim Southcoast town at a badly run hotel - the proprietor is a no-good, spendthrift, almost bankrupt drunk with a great deal of charm, his wife is at her wits end with any charm she had long exhausted. Their permanent guests include a disreputable Major and his wealthy mother, the staff are a bitterly quarreling pair of lesbians, one of whom has an impressive drug habit. Into this promising setup comes Miriam Birdseye (a genius and actress) along with her friend Pyke (playwright and ex-barrister).
There are oysters and then there are bodies - but everybody is lying, nothing is clear, and we only find out who dunnit in the very last pages. The element of reality and the very best of potential red herrings are Tony the hotel proprietor's drunkenness and his wife's desperation as she realises how bad things are. They're desperate, unreliable, and dishonest - but are they murderers?
Or could it be the dodgy major who Miriam might be engaged to? Maybe his uncle, and then there's a seedy bank manager, along with number of other suspicious characters who keep popping up to muddy the waters. Miriam herself has her hands full trying to balance the jealous affections of Pyke, Inspector Tomkins, Major Bognor, and Colonel Rucksack, never mind solving a murder. It's almost all nonsense, and entirely enjoyable. I'm also going to go out on a limb and say it's better for the absence of Natasha, the Russian ballerina, who has been a feature of the earlier books in the series.
You can ignore the cover of the book too - this is set in a grim February where it scarcely stops raining, the wind blows like it means it, and everything is damp and depressing in Brunton-On-Sea. I've enjoyed Nancy Spain before this, but I'll say again, this is the book that's really made me love her and get why she has quite as many fans as she does. She's always funny, but this time I really feel like there's something more behind the humour and the book is all the better for it.