Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Charity Ends at Home - Colin Watson

Once again two stories unfold at once in Charity Ends at Home (1968), Colin Watson's fifth satiric exploration of life in the less than idyllic village of Flaxborough. Mortimer Hive is a private detective working on a routine divorce case yet as an apparent former Foreign Office worker he acts if he is on a spy mission. When reporting to his client he resorts to absurd code names and narrates his surveillance of the philandering couple in a grandiloquent jargon.

While Hive is alternately flirting with the local barmaid and making his telephone reports Inspector Purbright and the Flaxborough police are investigating the peculiar drowning death of Henrietta Palgrove who was found upended in her ersatz wishing well used as a home for her pet goldfish. Mrs. Palgrove was noted in Flaxborough for her avid volunteerism and her ongoing letter writing campaign to her favorite charities. Pet charities, one might say. Quite literally. Mrs. Palgrove was devoted to rescuing animals, most especially dogs. She had recently fired off an insinuating letter to the secretary of the Flaxborough and Eastern Counties Charity Alliance (FECCA) threatening her with exposure of mismanagement of funds from the Rover Holme charity. And who is that secretary? None other than the irrepressible Lucilla Teatime.

The two plotlines converge when Purbright's team begins questioning Leonard, Mrs. Palgrove's husband. It soon becomes apparent that Leonard is not only considered the prime suspect in his wife's death but is also somehow involved in the case Mortimer Hive is working on. But is Leonard Hive's client or his target?  A series of anonymous letters proven to have come from Mrs. Palgrove's typewriter also add a bit of mystery to the case. It appears she was in fear for her life and the content implies a murder conspiracy. Miss Teatime proves to be quite a linguistic sleuth using her knowledge of charity publicity to make sense of the ambiguous letter solving one mystery that Purbright failed to see through.

 The ending may a bit too similar to Watson's previous book (Lonelyheart 4122) with another scene in which the killer tries to silence someone who knows too much. Still, Charity Ends at Home is as lively and engaging as all of Colin Watson's crime novels. This time Watson unsheathes his satirist's rapier wit and targets the indifferent authority of schoolmasters, the bluster of self-important civil servants, the paradoxical selfishness of charitable work and the zealotry of its devoted volunteers.

Mortimer drives the story with Miss Teatime riding shotgun this time unlike her starring role in Lonelyheart 4122. Despite his pompous speech, his chauvinistic view of women and his undeserved vanity Mortimer Hive is a thoroughly affable character. In the dialogue sequences with Miss Teatime we get a hint of not only a close friendship but some shady business in their past. It's clear that Hive and Miss Teatime are miscreants of one sort or another but Watson isn't letting us know exactly what they got up to in their checkered past. It's one reason that you'll want to keep reading more books in the series. I'm going to be a bit let down when I get to the end. There are only nine left for me to read out of the total of twelve books.

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Reading Challenge update: Silver Age card, space E6 - "Borrowed from a library"

4 comments:

  1. Lucky you, still having nine to read!

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  2. Blimey - OK, I can definitely feel a Watson marathon coming on shortly - thanks John, another for my bulging JFN shelf!

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    1. Ah, once again tapping into your psychic reserves, aren't you Sergio? You're so right. Guess what I'm posting later tonight? Another Watson review! I'm trying to catch up on the 12 books I read this month plus a few left over from last month.

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  3. Another Watson that I enjoyed long ago. You keep dangling them in front of me and you're going to set me off on a re-read binge. Which--given the 40 new books I just brought into the house this weekend--I definitely don't need right now....

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