Tour’s Books Blog

February 23, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: A Very Private Enterprise by Elizabeth Ironside

Filed under: Book review,Mystery review — toursbooks @ 6:39 am
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Part of the Felony and Mayhem series of reprints of older mysteries, mostly cozies and all ‘veddy, veddy British’. A Very Private Enterprise was copyright 1984 but is written in the stately, slow pace of much earlier works and lacks both verve and color. Though the detective is a police Inspector, this is solidly in the cozy category. In fact, it is pretty much amateur hour all the way around. Had it been a period piece set in an earlier time, it would have worked far better, but Ironside is short on police technical expertise and procedures in the 1980’s. The writing had that uniquely stilted, formal style that was common with British authors in the 30’s and 40’s. (This is not surprising as Elizabeth Ironside is the pen name of Lady Catharine Manning.) Dialogue is minimal. Characters are from central casting and uninspired. Given the setting in New Delhi, it’s also surprisingly lacking in the kind of detail that gives a setting life. It deserved so much more atmosphere; the kind Elizabeth Peters can call forth in her Amelia Peabody mysteries set in Egypt in the early 1900’s, or Tony Hillerman with his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn Navajo legend inspired mysteries.

Perhaps I’ve read far too many British cozies over the years, but I pretty much knew who did it and why by page 20. After the twists and turns, and some extra bodies, at the end, I was right. Still, there were enough red herrings and other distractions to keep me reading, though not without a certain amount of whining on my part with the sedate pace.

Hugo Frencham, Head of Chancery at the British High Commission in Delhi is stabbed to death in his bungalow garden within the Commission compound. His murderer is not immediately found and Inspector George Sinclair is dispatched from London to investigate. His is not an entirely welcome presence. After all, these are career Foreign Office staff with their futures on the line he just doesn’t seem sensitive to that.

A hidden cache of gold bullion, too much money in the banks back in England all acquired in the last few years, possible shady dealings in illegal currency exchange thru a bank in India, the visit from a Tibetan monk with a disreputable ‘art dealer’ asking about a ceremonial knife and small silver Buddha and Hugo’s relationship with a Russian diplomat in this pre-glasnost era raise all kind of questions. And then there’s the persistent speculation that Hugo was ‘gay’. Sinclair is also dealing with his attraction to Jane Somers, a ‘student of Tibetan’, even though he’s still married to the wife – and 5 children – he separated from 2 years earlier.

The double solution is not that big a surprise, but getting there is just agonizingly slow. In the end, I was just glad the story was done.

My Grade: D+

Who would enjoy this book: Fans of the duller English cozies. If you’ve read a lot of Dame Agatha Christie’s books, you’ll find this one well below her usual standard for her Miss Marple series. The rating for this book is GP.


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