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Mystery Monday Review – Murder at the Flea Club

Murder at the Flea Club by Matthew Head

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The year 1957 finds The Flea Club a hot Paris night spot. This story isn’t more crowded than the usual country-house mystery. I had no problem keeping who’s who straight.

Still, I got the feeling yet that this is an over-crowded mystery because they don’t have a lot to do except talk. And talk. And talk some more. For instance, an American “confirmed bachelor,” probably with his hand stereotypically on his hip, prattles like this:

Have you been downstairs, Hoopy? …. Well do go! I mean the place is simply fantastic, these utterly tremendous holes, right in the middle of the clubroom, and the most tremendous piles of dirt. Really quite picturesque and too too archaeological! So intellectual, is the way I feel about it, so un-Flea Club. But good, you know, really good. The Institute’s been taking pictures, if you can imagine. I mean it – the Institute! Ninth century if it’s a day, Professor Johnson says. Can you imagine?

This tedium is worsened by Head’s choice to narrate half the novel as Hooper’s recounting the last couple days’ action to Dr. Mary Finney. Like the flamboyant bachelor above, the reporting seems to go on and on. Besides it’s too unbelievable that Hooper would remember conversations word for word. By the scene in which they plan to gather all the suspects in a room, I was relieved and grateful.

On the positive side, Head uses language skillfully. He’s memorable at describing sounds (“She put both hands in front of her face and made unlovely burbling sounds”) and colors (“Freddy’s face turned into shrimp-colored blubber and began to vibrate”). Better, he’s funny as when Hooper and the teenager go on a date, the girl acts abstractedly: “I was proud to be with such a pretty girl, but if anybody tried to figure us out they must have thought either that we had had a lovers’ quarrel, or been married a little too long. Or maybe they just thought we were English.”

I gather that series hero Dr. Mary Finney’s usual locale was the Congo. So maybe the writer felt wobbly away from the familiar setting. Plus, this was the last novel in the series so maybe the earlier ones are better. Head is a good enough writer that I will try an earlier book in the series if it falls in my lap.




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