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Saturday, 25 February 2017

‘The Riviera Express’ by T P Fielden

Published by HarperCollins,
23 February 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-00-819368-3(HB).
978-0-00819-371-3 (TPB)

Picture the scene: an idyllic Devon seaside town in the 1950s. The most unpleasant thing that ever happens there is a bit of a rumpus on the front between rival Teddy Boys. A train brings visitors from Exeter every summer morning, and the front page headline in the local weekly paper is usually something like QUARREL OVER TEA-TIME CAKES AT MOTHERS’ UNION.

Until, one fateful morning, the paper’s faithful chief reporter, Miss Judy Dimont, meets the train, (both paper and train are called the Riviera Express, by the way), and – shock! horror! there’s a body on board, and it belongs to one of the country’s most famous and adored film stars.  

As is often the case in idyllic Devon towns, at least the fictional ones, the local plods are more interested in a quiet life than solving crime. However, Miss Dimont (affectionately known by her colleagues as Miss Dim but in fact nothing could be further from the truth) has a past – more accurately, a Past – which equips and encourages her to go ferreting around. She unearths a murder which, at first, no one else believes in. There’s a second body too: a thoroughly disliked freelance writer, found at the bottom of a crumbling cliff. So that’s two potential murders – and Miss Dim’s little grey cells are suddenly in overdrive.

The result is a delicious pastiche of a Golden Age crime novel, peopled with glamorous members of the film world, small-town sophisticates, a motley crew of newspaper staff, wooden policemen and the occasional Bad Lot. As Detective Inspector Topham lurches from one misjudgement to the next, Miss Dim wends her way through a trail of red herrings and misplaced clues with an unerring nose for the truth, which, of course she eventually reveals with a flourish just in time for the front-page splash. All despite the best efforts of her editor, whose usual form of communication is a grunt, and her younger, flightier colleague Betty, who regards the front page as her personal territory.

The Riviera Express is a gentle and wittily devised parody with larger than life characters, an  impossibly pretty backdrop and a jaunty writing style which all come together to reflect the author’s affection for the Golden Age as well as a close acquaintance with its foibles and clichés. True Golden Age devotees may feel it goes a little too far, but even they may have to admit it’s very well done.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

TP Fielden is a leading author, broadcaster and journalist. This is the first novel in the Miss Dimont Mystery series.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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