SIMON BRETT – Mrs. Pargeter’s Pound of Flesh. Mrs. Pargeter #4. Charles Scribner’s Sons, US, hardcover, 1993. Penguin, US, paperback, 1994. First published in the UK by Macmillan, hardcover, 1992.

   This is the fourth in Simon Brett’s “secondary” series (he is better known for his very popular stories of the actor Charles Paris) featuring Melita Pargeter. I’m in a distinct minority that doesn’t care for the Paris books at all, so it might seem surprising that I’m fairly fond of Mrs. Pargeter. No so, though; my antipathy toward the former is founded in my dislike for Paris himself, and not in reservations about Brett’s ability.

   For the benefit of newcomers to the series, Melita Pargeter is the widow of a shadowy figure who was evidently quite a proficient criminal of some sort, high up in the criminal hierarchy. He has left her not only very well provided for, but with a seemingly inexhaustible list of persons with shady specialties upon to call at need.

   Here, Mrs. Pargeter and a friend check into the British equivalent of a fitness spa, not so coincidentally run by an ex-associate of her late husband. She hasn’t been there long before discovering a young girl’s body, apparently dead of starvation. Then another death occurs, and she enlists the aid of several of her “helpers” to investigate. Before she’s done, she’s brought down a commercial empire or two and settled some old scores.

   The Pargeter books are witty and light in tone, and not meant to be taken too seriously. Brett is a very good writer with a sharp eye for character, and a breezy and enjoyable narrative style. Mrs. Pargeter provides a refreshing and engaging twist on the LOL detective — likable, intelligent, and altogether competent to deal with whatever comes to hand. Miss Marple she ain’t. I also enjoyed the first two books in the series, and recommend them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #6, March 1993

Bibliographic Notes:   To this date there are 19 books in Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series, 8 books about Mrs. Pargeter, 17 books taking place in the seaside town of Fethering, 7 books in his Blotto & Twinks series, and at least 10 standalone works of crime fiction.