LTER: The Body in the Gazebo

I received the hardcover of The Body in the Gazebo as a LibraryThing Early Reader book, and I was tickled – I’ve liked Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series from the beginning.  It’s one of several “cozy mystery” series about a caterer who keeps finding bodies and solving the attached mysteries, and then after you find out who dunnit you can apply yourself to the recipes in the back of the book.  (I always wonder with these series, though, why characters like Faith Fairchild or Goldy Schulz or [insert cozy hero/ine here] don’t send friends and family screaming away from them; would you really want to be friends with someone who seems to (sometimes literally) stumble over a body every six months?)

The jacket art is very attractive, but odd; I don’t know what the red-and-white-check tablecloth is supposed to represent.  It makes it look as though Faith opens an Italian restaurant, or goes on a picnic.

I like the series … but I don’t like Faith that much.  She is, avowedly and proudly, a snob.  Any food which costs less than one of my hours’ pay, or clothing which costs less than one of my weeks’ pay, is beneath her, and it’s annoying and extremely unattractive.  And she’s *still* stunned that she can bring herself to live in this tiny provincial place.

Besides that snobbery – an irritation that is not unique to Faith among fictional characters – this was a well-done mystery with a very different slant.  There is a body, but Faith isn’t the one to stumble over it here, and in fact it’s a body long gone to dust before she was born.  As Pix frantically prepares for her son’s wedding and the two-week-long gathering his soon-to-be in-laws have arranged for the two families, her mother (Ursula) falls abruptly, alarmingly ill.  Faith promises to help look after her while Pix is gone, which is one of the only reasons Pix goes – and almost as soon as Pix is gone, her mother begins to unfold a story to Faith, looking for her help.  It is a secret, even from Pix and her brother, which has been dormant for decades – and isn’t anymore. Intertwined with the old murder story is a current mystery involving funds missing from a church account to which only Tom has access, along with a smaller but still personally important mystery involving a person from Pix’s past at the wedding.

The storytelling is excellent.  The interludes of Ursula’s story drew me in, and I would honestly have enjoyed staying there for the whole book; Ursula as a girl was engaging, and that story was terrific.  It’s fascinating to see how Katherine Hall Page has grown as a storyteller from the first Faith Fairchild mystery, which was very much in the frothy cozy vein; later books like Gazebo show greater depth and almost, at times, poetry.  (I wonder if KHP has written anything in a different vein under a different name. I’d like to see it.)  However I feel in general about Faith, I love her marriage to Tom.  The problems they have had in past books have been believable and painful, and I like them much better than I do her.  I like Faith’s assistants, and I like Pix, though she carries some cliches with her.  Actually, many of the characters and situations carry along some been-there-done-that baggage, which is one reason I like the Fairchild marriage so much: it feels genuine.

The reason I rate this at three and a half stars instead of higher has quite a bit to do with said cliches, and the tiresome repetition that series like this can’t seem to manage to avoid: in each book there is a certain set of touchstones which have to be included, such as a synopsis of the first book, and the story of how Faith got to where she is as a caterer and as a minister’s wife in Aleford, and brief summaries of any other books that are touched upon in the current story.  Some of these are more necessary than others, and I’m sure I’m wrong when I grumble that the wording is always the same.  There just has to be a better way than this infodump.  The main reason, though, for the less than very high rating has a great deal to do with part of the climax. Melodramatic and over the top, it felt absurd, and as though it had been dropped in from another book (either an earlier one in this series, from which it felt very familiar, or … Robert Ludlum or something).  Pity; I enjoyed most of the rest quite a lot.

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