Death in Norfolk

Ian Sansom has written a whole series of "County Guides" mysteries. There are three to date set in Norfolk, Devon and (the latest) Westmorland. They are closely based, I suspect, on the Shell Guides that became such a staple collectable of the 1930's. The "County Guides" mysteries follow Spanish Civil War veteran, Stephen Sefton, who, desperate for a job, becomes Robin to Swanton Morley's Batman.

Swanton Morley is one of those erudite characters who seemed to blossom in inter-war Britain. The nearest real-life person I can think of to him would be J.B. Priestley though Priestley would lag some way behind Morley in terms of the amount that he had published. Sansom compares Morley to a cross between the Pink Panther and Droopy the Dog, or alternatively Karl Kraus and Conan Doyle.

The first in the series The Norfolk Mystery sees Sefton and Morley arrive in Blakeney at the start of their researches for the County Guides series. Peaceful Blakeney is shattered when the local vicar is found hanged in the vestry of his church. Shortly afterwards his maid, a Jewish refugee, takes her own life immolating herself on Blakeney Quay. With the police fairly inept, Morley has to investigate. Is it really suicide or is something rather more sinister going on?

I enjoyed The Norfolk Mystery, it was a gentle, fun read. Full of literary allusions, and one to enjoy if you're at all familiar with the Norfolk coast and countryside. Having spent some time recently in Blakeney this was an enjoyable read, even if the happenings on the quayside were rather disconcerting. Sansom is aiming more for the comical detective market, than anything too serious here, and as such it works well. Crime fans looking for an in depth, complex case will be disappointed, but for a quick fun read it's enjoyable enough, and worth a browse.


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