Bradbourne, a small English village where every bloke stands his neighbors to a round at the pub and gossips about them the moment they leave, is suddenly minus one resident when Jim Lapsford, noted middle-aged printer/philanderer, dies in the night, apparently of a heart attack. His wife Monica is mildly upset, as are his co-workers, one of his two sons, and both of his mistresses. The real grieving, however, is left to his dog Cassie, who expires the next day—after lovingly licking the corpse’s face—and the real anguish to his temperamental son David, clamoring to know once and for all who his real dad was. For reasons best known to the author, novice undertaker Drew Slocombe decides the man now in the mortuary was poisoned and starts investigating the death, soon unearthing pilfered prescription blanks and traces of henbane, codeine, and Viagra. A metal-studded young man will die, Slocombe’s wife will collide with his boss Daphne’s car, Lapsford’s mistresses will join arm in arm to view the body, and his best friend Jack will reveal secrets involving Lapsford’s long-dead twin sister. The cremation will be delayed, and then postponed, before Lapsford goes his rest with his murderer ready for prison.
Though the plot is hampered from the get-go by Slocombe’s inexplicable interfering, Tope (A Dirty Death, 2000) shows admirable zest and humor in relating everyone in the village to everyone else, à la Six Degrees of Separation, and demonstrates a winsome way with every last village soul.