I am an admirer of cleverness. My top tv celebrities are David Attenborough, Stephen Fry and Professor Brian Cox rather than anyone from reality shows – I even have a lot of time for Russell Brand (he doesn’t quite know what to do with his cleverness but it seems to be genuinely there and he has sound footballing credentials). I’m just not sure how much fun some really smart people would be to live with. I mean, I bet Dawkins is a beggar for not replacing the toilet roll and Victoria Coren Mitchell hogs the tv remote. Possibly.
In Ian Sansom’s County Guides (of which Death in Devon is the second) we meet the undoubtedly intelligent Swanton Morley. He is a complete polymath who can speak knowledgeably, if not understandably, on any subject and who seems to be on a mission to write all the necessary reference books ever – imagine, if you will, a 1930s Stephen Fry. He is also a complete nightmare. Not somebody you’d want to get stuck in a lift with (or even share a tea-room with since he seems to be one to hold forth with no regard for anyone else’s conversations) let alone work for. In this series he travels around Britain with his rather forceful daughter, Miriam, and his secretary Stephen Sefton. Poor Stephen seems to come off worst on almost every occasion – it is probably not just his memories of the Spanish Civil War which are driving him to drink.
The plot of this book is, well, eventful. Morley, and his sidekicks, travel to Devon to give a speech at a school run by an old friend and, in the best tradition of 1930s Golden Age crime fiction (and Midsomer Murders) things go very, very wrong. In fact the death of one of the school’s pupils is probably the least of it compared to the hints of occult practices (and Miriam’s robust appetites…). I found the book very amusing and cleverly put together although I understand that Morley is too irritating for some readers. I’m just interested to see how far Ian Sansom gets in the series – with nearly 40 counties to cover it is going to take a while to complete. I hope he gets around to Essex (where he and I are both from) and I wonder what it will be called. Extermination in Essex maybe?