Reading other people's letters is always a guilty pleasure. But for two West Yorkshire policemen - contemplating a cache of 27 undelivered missives, retrieved from a back alley behind the hairdresser's in Skipton - it's also a job of work. The quaint moorside village of Burley Cross has been plunged into turmoil by the theft of the contents of its postbox, and when PC Roger Topping takes over the case, which his higher-ranking schoolmate Sergeant Laurence Everill has so far failed to crack, his expectations of success are not high.
Yet Topping's investigation into the curtain-twitching lives of Jeremy Baverstock, Baxter Thorndyke, the Jonty Weiss-Quinns, Mrs Tirza Parry (widow), and a splendid array of other weird and wonderful characters, will not only uncover the dark underbelly of his scenic beat, but also the fundamental strengths of his own character.
The denizens of Burley Cross inhabit a world where everyone's secrets are worn on their sleeves, pettiness becomes epic, little is writ large. From complaints about dog shit to passive-aggressive fanmail, from biblical amateur dramatics to an Auction of Promises that goes staggeringly, horribly wrong, Nicola Barker's epistolary novel is a work of immense comic range. It is also unlike anything she has written before. Brazenly mischievous and irresistibly readable, Burley Cross Postbox Theft is a Cranford for today, albeit with a decent dose of Tamiflu, some dodgy sex-therapy and a whiff of cheap-smelling vodka.
©2010 HarperCollins Publishers (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers
I nearly gave up on this book midway through the introductory briefing (listen and that will make sense) as the constant repetition of the name 'Rog' became increasingly irritating.....but I'm glad I persevered. Nicola Barker has pulled off a very neat trick in infusing a very traditional village 'cozy' mystery with a surreal edge that never becomes self indulgent. The epistolatory format allows the cast of seemingly standard village stereotypes to emerge as real and deeply flawed people through their unwitting revelation of quirks, prejudices and deeply buried (until now) dark secrets. It's all quite bizarre yet still believable and very funny.
This was a bit of a 'punt' for me to download and as the previous reviewer noted, the opening 'missive' is a little irritating, but I enjoyed it so much that I've listened to it twice now. That's partly because an audiobook doesn't afford the listener the opportunity to refer back to previous passages as easily as the written page (something any reader/listener of this book will surely want to do to check up on who's who and who said/did what to whom) but also because it's a huge amount of fun.
Forget the fact that no one would ever really write letters in the style and detail that is presented (it's essential for the development of the plot) and just enjoy it for what it is - a fun story in which anyone who's ever lived in a village will recognise certain characters!!
Best of all for this sad romantic was the late forming sub-plot between two peripheral characters and the mystery solving constable's way of addressing their mutual anguish in the book's denouement in the midst of solving and explaining the main 'crime'. Lovely!
To be fair this isn't a full review as I've only listened to ten minutes. It isn't funny, I have no idea what's going on, the writing is padded with repetition and the characterisation is lazy. Gaah, I wasted my money right enough.
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