The Curious Case of the Clairvoyant Curate
Sergeant Frosty Publications
I do enjoy a good murder-mystery title from time to time, allowing my ‘little grey cells’ to be exercised as I follow the twists and turns in order to find out whodunit (and howtheydunit, and whytheydunit and so forth); and is there any more classic a setting for a murder-mystery than a house nestled deep in the English countryside, populated with an intriguing and eclectic cast of characters, and set during the 1920s? That’s what author David Flin offers us with The Curious Case of the Clairvoyant Curate, one of the first titles from Flin’s own Sergeant Frosty Publications which has only very recently emerged on the publishing scene. It would be something of an understatement to say that things are currently difficult for the publishing industry at the moment, affected as it is by the COVID-19 pandemic and the many problems it has unleashed, and it’s therefore not an easy (or simple) time to launch a new publishing venture. Yet, as my recent interview with him has amply demonstrated, if anyone can navigate the difficult path that the industry is venturing down at the moment, then it is Mr Flin and the redoubtable Sergeant Frosty Publications. SFP have what looks like a very strong line-up in the opening tranche of titles they now have on offer, and I’m looking forward to reviewing some of them, especially those that tie in so closely with my own interests. That certainly applies to The Curious Case of the Clairvoyant Curate, a murder-mystery novelette by David Flin set in a country manor in the 1920s, and which features an absolutely fantastic piece of cover art by illustrator Anastasia Nikolova (who also designed the amazing artwork featured on The Scifi and Fantasy Reviewer website), with the superb interplay of a magnifying glass, a country manor, and the silhouette of a 1920s socialite all laid across a sepia-toned background. The artwork really makes the book stand out amongst its many competitors in the genre, and made me want to jump in and start reading the story.
The story itself revolves around our protagonist Millicent Cavdenish, newly-married socialite who is attempting to shed her air-head, party-goer image by hosting a weekend house party and generally trying to appear far more level-headed and sensible than her previous history might suggest; after all, she’s married now, with a doting husband and young daughter. Unfortunately, while struggling to juggle the responsibilities of running a household and its domestic staff, as well as trying to ensure her guests enjoy the weekend, one of them has the utter temerity to be murdered and utterly ruins the occasion. With only the cause of death and a mysterious letter by the victim’s bedside to go on, Millicent is therefore forced to investigate her guests in a scenario where seemingly everyone has the means, motive and opportunity to commit murder. Only by using her social background, her quick wits and a cunning imagination can Millicent ensure the murderer is uncovered and brought to justice before the whole affair interferes with Stir-It-Sunday and the rest of her weekend. Before the killer is tracked down and brought to justice, Millicent will find herself embroiled in the machinations of the landed classes, navigating her way around affairs, scandals, misplaced love and even the subject of eugenics – and all while trying to deal with lecherous guests and love-lorn servants. Flin delivers a fast-paced and cunningly constructed plot that deftly moves between seeking out a murderer and navigating the treacherous and ever-shifting complexities of high society, revealing numerous secrets and embarrassments along the way.
One of the greatest strengths of The Curious Case of the Clairvoyant Curate is the entertainingly eclectic cast of characters that Flin assembles for the murder-mystery, all of which have hidden depths and a suitably sordid collection of skeletons in their closets to ensure they all come under suspicion. In the best traditions of the murder-mystery genre, each guest is sufficiently eccentric enough to stand out in the coming affair, with Flin deftly and vividly sketching out their main attributes and physical characteristics. From a retired Colonel with an alleged passion for adultery and his long-suffering wife, to a vicar accompanied by his wife and a young teenage ward with an unusual background, as well as a pair of middle-aged twin scientists, Flin gathers together a fascinating and unforgettable cast of characters. Indeed, it’s genuinely impressive that Flin manages to make each of the guests such three-dimensional and engaging characters despite the relatively short wordcount of the novelette, and provides striking evidence of his clear skill as a writer. But the star of the novelette is Millicent, an engaging, memorable and hugely likeable protagonist who easily brings you along with the plot, navigating this upper-class society with a keen eye for detail and no end of wry comments and witty come-backs to her encounters with her various guests. Her brand of quiet, sardonic humour meshes perfectly with the murder-mystery plot, deftly blending together the hunt for the murderer with a constant stream of biting commentary on the hobbies, habits and inherent hypocrisy of the landed classes. This links into another strength of the novelette – Flin’s keen eye for the hypocrisy of class-based society and the misogyny inherently baked into British society at that time, and his ability to combine that with a deft turn of phrase. This results in a near-continuous series of pithy and eye-catching comments on society at the time, generating a discourse that skewers both contemporary society, and also our modern-day, uncritical obsession with that same period. There’s no better example of that discourse than when Millicent uncovers the incredibly shocking truth at the heart of the whole affair, with its distinctly unsettling and quietly nauseating implications.
Combining a masterfully-plotted murder-mystery populated with a cast of eclectic and memorable characters with incisive social commentary and a sure eye for puns and wordplay that ranges from broad slapstick to the blackest humour and then back again, The Curious Case of the Clairvoyant Curate is an incredible achievement by David Flin. Although superficially reminiscent of something akin to Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, Flin is easily talented enough to create a distinctive setting and scenario that differentiates itself from those other properties, and in the process creates something quite unique and completely memorable. Whether you are a fan of murder-mysteries, period historical dramas, or simply looking for a short but effortlessly entertaining and witty read, The Curious Case of the Clairvoyant Curate will be exactly what you’re looking for. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and eagerly look forward both to the next Millicent Cavdenish adventure, and more generally what David Flin and Sergeant Frosty Publications come up with in the future.