At Bouchercon in October I learned that my friend Sarah Byrne and I share a mutual admiration for the satirical mysteries of the incomparable Ruth Dudley Edwards. I re-read one of them upon my return home and found it every bit as good as I remembered it. Clubbed to Death (St. Martin’s Press, 1992) is the 4th title in the Robert Amiss series. Later in the set of 12 books, released between 1982 and 2012, Baroness (Jack) Troutbeck joins him in blithely skewering the English establishment.
A historian, journalist, and prize-winning biographer, Dr. Dudley Edwards won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction for Aftermath: The Omagh Bombings and the Families’ Pursuit of Justice. Her mysteries have been shortlisted by the Crime Writers' Association for the John Creasey Award for the best first novel and twice for the Last Laugh Award for the funniest crime novel of the year. Murdering Americans won the Last Laugh award at the 2008 CrimeFest in Bristol.
Robert Amiss is a former British civil servant, caught up in the economic roller coaster that was England in the late 1900s, always looking for some kind of revenue-generating employment. This chronic need for work sets him up beautifully to be sent undercover by his police friends into a long-established gentleman’s club to learn why the secretary of the group seems to have committed suicide in a very public, very messy way in full view of several members. That the secretary was attempting to bring order to the outdated and eccentric operations of the club, to the dismay of some of the members, only heightens police suspicions.
Amiss discovers that members of the ffeatherstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshaw) club live about 100 years in the past, consuming gargantuan meals and drinking exquisitely expensive wines while paying a pittance in membership fees. Where is the money coming from? And where is it going? He has begun to quietly sort through the club’s finances and to establish alibis while working as a live-in waiter when another board officer is killed. There is no question about suicide this time, and the police swarm the club looking for answers.
It would be all too easy to overlook the soundly contrived mystery amid the snickers and chortles that erupt as Dudley Edwards’ incisive wit pokes and prods London’s clubs, public schools, the English language, pomposity, and posh accents. I particularly enjoyed the joke about The Economist, Dudley Edwards’ former employer. Yet focusing only on the humor does this well-plotted amateur detective story a great disservice. Mystery readers unfamiliar with the series will find this title a good place to start.
· Hardcover: 190 pages
· Publisher: St Martins Press (September 1, 1992)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0312081634
· ISBN-13: 978-0312081638
Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.