I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
This genial whodunit was the 1980 debut novel of an art historian who was an expert in pottery. Oliver literally wrote the book on Staffordshire Pottery: The Tribal Art of England. Before his early death in the late Eighties, he wrote four mysteries, in which he used his insight into the business and obsession of collecting antique pottery.
More lust and bawdy couplings than is usual in a cozy mystery do lead to lapses in taste. However, far outweighing this quibble is that this is a genuinely British comic mystery. That is, it features eccentric characters in the English village of Flaxfield, an irrepressible Welshwoman, and a scamp of an Irish tinker. Other funny characters in the Dickensy tradition include a vicar that does spend awful lot of time in conversations with the Almighty; a randy spinster; a widow who got that way through murder; gay partners in an antique shop, one of whom, James Trottwood, is nicknamed "Betsey;" and an American millionaire who's mad about a fabulously valuable Staffordshire figurine called The Pew Group.
The Pew Group goes missing during a wake, which in my English is the feasting and drinking held after the funeral and burial, not the vigil held at the bedside of somebody who has died. Inspector Webber, born in Flaxfield, has returned there for a rest cure and a vacation from a marriage which as boiled down to an "irritable acquaintanceship." He teams up with Mrs. Thomas, the incorrigible woman from Cardiff, to identify the thief.
In the first quarter or so of the book the tone is a little more tetchy and acerbic than I like. The waspishness brought to my mind Robert Barnard, whom I don’t read anymore because his parodies of the conventions of the cozy mystery just seem mean-spirited. However, to my relief, Oliver’s tone got more genial and affectionate as the book went on. It’s more in the English spirit to be nice.
Oliver is a clever, imaginative, and first-rate storyteller. I highly recommend this mystery.