A dark salute to the dying art of letter-writing.
Jill and Dennis Seagrave live in the tree-lined enclave of suburbia’s Tabbett Drive, where she’s charming but slightly distant toward the neighbors and he’s turned their privet into a topiary wonderland of peacocks, bison and cormorants. Sadly, all is not as balmy at it seems. In letters to her mum and a school chum, Jill mentions couple-swapping weekends in her home and hints at troubling secrets in Dennis’s past. In letters to his brother Tim, his ex-girlfriend Anna and his current sleaze, Marie, Dennis admits to hiring detectives to tail Jill and learning of her lugubrious infidelities with a bum named Peregrine and a Volvo-owner named Greg. To keep Dennis from reading her correspondence, Jill befriends Mrs. A.V. Ward, OBE, and asks to receive her mail there. Alas, the OBE—or the cow-bitch, as Jill comes to call her—takes up with Dennis. Jill’s letters grow more fearful, Dennis’s more menacing. Surely murder is in the offing. But James has a twist in store, then another, and yet another before the last missive is posted.
A gleeful send-up, by turns sinister and amusing (never has the weather been addressed with such aplomb). James, who likes to supplement his Harpur and Iles series (Wolves of Memory, 2006, etc.) with stand-alones (Between Lives, 2004, etc.), is probably the most undervalued Brit writing crime fiction today.