Written by Fidelis Morgan — The Murder Quadrille is aptly named, because author Fidelis Morgan certainly leads the reader a merry dance. And ‘merry’ is a well chosen description too, because this is possibly the funniest crime book I’ve ever read. You’ll need the tissues handy to wipe away tears of laughter.
Make no mistake though, Morgan takes her writing extremely seriously. She is author of the hugely successful Countess Ashby Dela Zouche series of historical crime novels and has also penned non-fiction, biographies and award-winning plays. This is her first modern day mystery, and it’s clear she has struck a rich vein right from the off.
In a scene straight out of Come Dine With Me, an ill-assorted group of people gather for a dinner party at Sarah and Martin Beaumont’s house. Martin runs an advertising company, while Sarah stays at home and looks after his admin after taking voluntary redundancy from her high-powered job at a publishing firm. She put her lump sum into the business but now Martin needs money to expand, and is out to impress with a display of culinary conviviality which he foists upon his wife, much to her disgust. Among those invited to dine is his bank manager, Kevin. Making up the numbers are lawyer Max, his ditsy partner Lisa, and next-door neighbour Tess, an American author of lurid true crime books.
They’re an odd mix, and the atmosphere isn’t helped by the fact that a body has just been found on the nearby common. So you can guess the topic of conversation around the table as those assembled sample overpriced wine and feast on Sarah’s sumptuous fare.
It soon becomes clear that Sarah and Martin’s marriage is on its last legs, and when the pair have a blazing row after the guests have departed, tragedy follows, setting the unsuspecting reader on a road that is as hard to predict as the winning lottery numbers. This isn’t just a whodunit, it’s a what-happened-and-did-he-do-it-at-all?
There’s more than a touch of slapstick about proceedings and at times you almost expect Brian Rix to run in with his trousers around his ankles, such is the feeling of farce. However it is to the author’s credit that she manages to weave a sense of creepy unease in amongst the humour. The story develops through the eyes of everyone who attended the party, and Morgan’s skill in creating wholly believeable characters shines through. She also has a great sense of time and place and a keen eye for detail – obviously honed in her work as a historical novelist – and a love of high drama which must surely have developed from her work as a playwright and actress.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book and I found myself engrossed from chapter one. Every time you think you know where the story is going, it performs a switchback worthy of any white knuckle ride. In short, expect the unexpected, because this is a rip-roaring page turner that wrong-foots you at every end and turn.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars