Today I bring you one of my reviews as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team. First, let me tell you a little bit about the book:
The Undertaker’s Son by B A Spicer
A picturesque village in south-west France offers the chance of a new life for Martha Burton. But, beneath the rural idyll, lurks an evil that will not remain buried forever.
Claude Cousteau has never been in love. He has no real friends. The only meaningful attachment he has ever formed is to Felix Dumas, an influential lawyer, who once showed him kindness and with whom he spent an idyllic sunny afternoon, as a child.
When Felix Dumas’ way of life comes under threat, Claude is determined to defend the only true friend he has ever had.
About the author:
Bev Spicer was born in Bridgnorth, a small market town in the Midlands. Her father was an Observer for the RAF and an experienced glider pilot (Bev spent many a weekend at the Midland Gliding Club, where she too learned to glide). Her mother was a local beauty queen and county hockey player, who still lives in Bridgnorth.
Bev was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and became a lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University in 1997, moving to live in France with her husband and her two youngest children ten years later, where she lives in a lovely Charentaise house (in need of renovation).
She is widely read and has travelled extensively, living in Crete, where she taught English and learned to speak Greek, and in Seychelles, where she worked for the government and co-designed materials which were used to teach at secondary school level. She now writes every day and teaches English in her spare time.
Her humorous memoirs have been widely praised for their light-hearted but intelligent style, and hilarious, fast-paced dialogue. Her more literary novels and short stories have been equally well received for their complex characters, impressive prose, and imaginative settings.
You can find Bev’s blog here: http://baspicer.blogspot.fr/
Her Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/1D1fiWF
She’s on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BevSpice
Her Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Bev-Spicer/e/B008BHV7YC/
And now, my review:
I am reviewing this book as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie and to the author for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The book intrigued me because of the description and the setting. We all seem to expect crime, and crime novels, to be set in big cities, but when evil hides in a small, picturesque and peaceful town, it seems worse. As if evil had no place in such environment. It’s true that it’s perhaps more difficult to hide in a small and idyllic French town, but some manage to hide in plain sight.
The novel, written in the third person, is told from the point of view of a large number of characters, from the “evil” character hinted at in the description, the undertaker’s son of the title, Claude, to Patrice, a young student who ends up being more central to the plot than it seems at first. The author allows us to peer into the heads of her characters, and this is sometimes a very agreeable experience (like in the case of Martha Burton, the British divorcee out to create a new life for herself in France, who, despite disappointments in love is fairly happy), and at others, an utterly terrifying one. Apart from Claude, who has no redeeming qualities, and Patrice, who is a nice young man without any shades, all the rest of the characters are all too human: they hesitate, they are morally ambiguous at times, and even downright immoral. Felix Dumas, the crook, is utterly dislikeable, but even he has some redeeming qualities (he does not understand his son, but seems to love him, and he tells Claude not to take drastic measures. He does not want anyone killed.) And Angeline… It’s a credit to the author that by allowing us into the minds of her characters, we might not agree with what they do, the secrets they keep, or their reasons and justifications, but we understand them. Well, that is, except for Claude.
Claude reminded me of the main character in Peeping Tom due to his fascination with death. But, in contrast with Mark Lewis, the protagonist of Peeping Tom, who is a victim of his father’s psychological experiments, Claude is unknowable. We share his memories and see his attachment to Felix, but he operates outside of our conceptions of right and wrong. He’s a psychopath, but from what we get to see of him, he uses his interest and fascination with death in a utilitarian way, and turns it into a business, rather than being compelled to kill. He plans his jobs with military precision, and seems alien to humankind, functioning at a different level. This is not the typical serial killer whose neighbours would say he seemed so “normal”. He is nothing if not extraordinary. A character very difficult to forget that makes us question the limits of humanity and conscience.
The plot is intriguing but the writing ebbs and flows through certain moments, like parties, planting a tree, and the fleeting memories of a dementing old-man, that help us get a vivid sense of the town and its people, and make us care for the fate of its inhabitants. For the duration of the book we become privileged town dwellers and get to know everybody. This is not a frantically paced thriller, but a novel that shares in the more relaxed pace of its setting, and that’s perhaps what makes it more chilling.
The ending is satisfying (perhaps everything works out too well and that’s the least realistic aspect of the novel) and reassuring. I look forward to reading more novels by B A Spicer.
Four and a half stars.
I haven’t forgotten the links, but the author just let me know that on 7th and 8th, to coincide with this post, her book would be FREE, so make sure to get it!
Thanks to Rosie for creating and coordinating her team, thanks to B A Spicer for her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and you know, if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment, and of course, CLICK! It’s FREE!