Brett, Simon. The Poisoning in the Pub. Five Star, 2009.
The Poisoning in the Pub is a charming little detective story--and, I gather, one from the middle of a series by Simon Brett--that blends the elegance and wisdom of Christie's Marple with the frivolous lightness of Braun's cat-based sleuthing stories. In many ways, this works well. Jude and Carole are determined old busybodies, and their small-town network of informant provides an excellent supplement to the "old biddy" detective work initiated by Christie. Like Miss Marple, they are concerned with the events occurring in the lives of their friends and neighbours, and their unassuming statures enable them to coerce supplemental facts and back stories out of many minor characters. Brett also does an excellent job pitting them against the law and its many servants; on occasion, steps taken by Jude and Carole prove harmful to the more formal investigation, adding a shred of realism to the novel as a whole.
The Poisoning in the Pub begins with Jude and Carole enjoying a seafood lunch in a small local pub, and the title references an outbreak of food poisoning that occurs in a timely fashion within the first chapter. Determined to prove that this incident was no fault of the pub's owner (a friend) or chef, Carole and Jude launch an investigation. Yet where Marple's stories are primarily character-based, Brett meanders almost too far into the realms of personality: Jude and Carole are entrenched within a sea of mostly irrelevant personal details, surrounded by ex-partners, and often distracted from the plot by matters of everyday life. While this is likely realistic to some degree, too much is perhaps made, in the novel, of their troubles with technology and elderly approaches to tattoos and the internet. In moderation, such trivialities would provide amusing transitions, but Brett's repeated emphasis on the generational divide turns Carole and Jude into mere stereotypes. Many of their acquaintances and friends are similarly stereotypical, such as the several mentally challenged individuals whose testimonies prove remarkably helpful to the plot's solution, but these characters are even more stilted, walking a fine line between stereotype and deus ex machina.
This was an enjoyable novel, and I would not hesitate to read another mystery by Simon Brett, but it falls far short of the elegance attained by earlier writers in the genre.