Monday, January 28, 2013


Thanks to my friend Anne Buchanan, who recommended Morag Joss's Sara Selkirk mysteries.

Anne knows the kind of mysteries I like best. I'd rather the murder(s) happened offstage. I want the characters to be more than plot devices--I like to read about their friends and families, what annoys them at work, what brings them joy, what they like to eat. I love a writer who knows how to develop a sense of place. And it helps if the writer can make me laugh every now and then.

I was delighted with Funeral Music.

Sara Selkirk is a concert cellist of international renown who has been suffering from "musician's block" for a year or so. Originally from Scotland but now a resident of Bath, England, Sara has agreed to play a short concert at the Pump Room in order to raise funds for the Bath Festival. Not long afterward she discovers a corpse.

Fortunately she is well connected. One of her cello students is a police inspector. A friend is a colleague of the murder victim. Another friend takes her to an alternative healing fair, where she happens to observe the eventual murder victim talking with a large man who, it turns out, badly wants a job they both are applying for. This friend's landlady, as it turns out, is the large man's girlfriend (Bath's population is only about 80,000). And then there is Paul, who is good with women and knives; and James, who has a rotten alibi; and George, the prejudiced museum guard, and ...

The puzzle is fun, with several healthy red herrings. Even more fun are Joss's descriptions--short ones, like "his face had the faraway, otherworldly look of a defecating Labrador," and dazzling longer ones, like her evocation of Bach's Trio Sonata in C Major, which
splashed out and down in a shower of weightless drops into the open lap of the abbey nave.... Only Bach could do this, make you feel you had been only half alive until this moment, pull you into the dance, lift you and take you as high as the roof, right up to where you could drink from the music's spring and be filled with a few bubbles of his crazy joy.... It flowed on, the little sounds dancing out across the transept like drops of light, darting through the melodic web that the organist's feet and fingers were spinning to and fro on which to catch them. Sara had the sensation that she had unknowingly been suffering from some sort of deafness and that with this glorious noise she had suddenly woken up to find that her ears were working properly.
Joss spices up the story with a number of complicated relationships: Paul and Sue (or Olivia?), Andrew and Valerie (or Sara?), Derek and Cecily (or Pauline?), James and Tom (or Graham?). One of the funniest scenes I've ever read in a mystery is between  Derek and his wife, Pauline, after she has learned about Cecily--but you'll have to read the book if you want to know more.

Publishers Weekly gave Funeral Music a starred review and P.D. James gave it a laudatory blurb. I'd call it a clever combination of Peter Lovesey and Jane Austen. I can't imagine why the Wheaton Public Library doesn't have the Sara Selkirk mysteries on its shelves, but they got it for me quickly through interlibrary loan. Or you can get a used copy for less than $4 from Amazon.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Anyone who would write that about Bach is well worth a read! Thanks for the review!