I LOVE a cosy crime novel – when I’m not writing them, I’m reading them – and I was completely thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy of this one, The Riviera Express by T P Fielden:
From the first paragraph, Fielden’s heroine-sleuth, Miss Dimont, is captivating and contrary. She is a fully rounded character, with yards of backstory trailing behind her, waiting enticingly to be revealed, and the kind of gifted amateur detective that mystery lovers will take to their bosoms instantly. She is funny, she is feisty, she is a lot cleverer than anyone else within miles but manages to be (mostly) modest with it.
Set in a Devonshire seaside town in 1958, comfortably before such trials to the crime writer as CCTV, GPS tracking and mobile phones, Miss Dimont works doggedly on the local paper, covering births, marriages … and deaths. I loved the doublespeak all journalists are forced to deploy when writing of the area’s great and good, like Miss D’s obituary of a local bigwig: “his love of life (barmaids) and the Turf (he never paid his bookies) set him aside in the community (he had no friends).”
The book is bursting with characters just waiting to be transferred to celluloid and I spent much of this wonderfully enjoyable read casting various British acting greats in plum roles. Bill Nighy has to be in it, of course, but who will play the fading film star Prudence Aubrey who, like a ripe Brie, is beginning to spread a little and has sashayed past her sell-by date? And who, indeed, will rise to the occasion and take on the role of Miss Dimont herself? That is a real conundrum, I’m not sure who is capable of doing her justice.
Lovers of Golden Age crime will adore Fielden, who has already been signed up by Harper Collins for three more Miss Dimont novels and, I predict, will soon be nailed firmly into a contract to write many more. Though Miss D is on the cusp of a more modern age (how on earth will she and sleepy Temple Regis deal with mini skirts and the Beatles, I wonder?), there are parallels with Agatha Christie novels, but with an important difference. While Christie trotted out bushels of novels and was a past master at the big reveal (no invitation to a gathering in the library could ever be turned down), her books didn’t have a lot of heart. Fielden, though, is a warm writer, who clearly adores his sometimes wayward heroine, and has a sneaking affection for almost everyone else around. Even his bounders have (some) redeeming features, and passing vignettes are full of sympathy and a shrewd but generous eye for human foibles. A little thumbnail of a lonely dog walker brought tears to my eyes.
Most of your tears, reading the Riviera Express, will be of laughter. It’s a very funny book, and leaves you feeling as though you’ve had a bracing trip to the best of British seaside resorts, full of sunshine, frolics and fun.
But who is this mysterious Fielden, you may ask? Well, broadsheet newspaper and biography readers will know him better as Christopher Wilson, Royal expert, author of ten books and columnist on the Times, Sunday Telegraph and Express. It’s a surprising turn in an intriguing career and, to my mind, the best yet.