"Threats at Three" by Ann Purser: Book Review

"Threats at Three" by Ann Purser Berkley Prime Crime, 346 pp., $23.95 Reviewed by David Marshall James

It's always the incomers (newcomers) in these English villages, isn't it?

What a soddy lot they can turn out to be.

As problematic as two families of incomers to Long Farnden-- in this tenth Lois Meade mystery by British author Ann Purser-- reveal themselves, most of the village stalwarts come to their various rescues, and attempt to assist them in assimilating.

Does help that both families have small children, a surefire magnet for mother and grandmother wannabes (as well as the "already are's"). How awful can the newbies be, when they possess precious tots?

Long Farnden regulars begin with Mrs. Meade-- mother hen to a host of charming charwomen, employees of Mrs. M's cleaning service, New Brooms. 'Course, Lois likes a good snoop as much as she does a good sweep; hence, her rather tempestuous nonaffair with Detective Hunter Cowgill of the constabulary in nearby Tresham.

Cowgill would love to go a-grazin' on Lois's personal turf, but she's married with three grown children, and only interested in him insofar as he can satisfy her curiosity. That goes vice-versa (in the business department) for the detective, for who knows the village dirt better than an accomplished cleaner?

Lois's daughter, Josie, runs the village store, which packs in the shopper-gossips and kids seeking lollies, and thus manages a small-- if not Lois Meade tidy-- profit. Josie's caught the eye of Cowgill's nephew, Matthew, also of the Tresham constabulary.

It would seem fitting that Josie's Gran (chief cook, bottle washer, dispenser of coffee and tea biscuits, and eavesdropper extraordinaire in Lois's household) find herself a shiny copper as well. Perhaps in future?

Long Farnden is also home to an elderly couple, The Dibsons. He sings (badly, but he's not alone) in the church choir, and she's confined to a wheelchair. The childless couple are attracted to the two new families in the village, who stand at the center of the plot, which commences with the organization of a fete to raise funds to preserve the village hall.

Seems both the mister and the missus in each of the incoming families all worked for a ruthlessly shady developer who would like nothing better than to raze the hall, raise a new one and lots of new houses to surround it, and raise quite a bit of hell at that.

Among the village notables, the young widowed vicar, Fr. Rodney, deserves fuller attention in a future volume. He ought to be supplied with a gaggle of husband-hunters, with one winding up killed in the competition, thus rendering the remaining pursuers probable suspects.

This pleasant mystery accents the characters and the setting over the plot. Lois's contretemps with Gran and Cowgill (plus everyone's tiffs with village grande dame Mrs. Tollervey-Jones) enliven the proceedings. Lois and her lot could carry just about anything on their well-established backs.

Nevertheless, if the author's not careful, Purser's own Ivy Beasley (protagonist of the lively and amusing "The Hangman's Row Enquiry") is going to outshine Mrs. M.

No cleaning lady worth her polish-- particularly not Mrs. M-- should have to suffer such outshining.

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