Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Saint Valentine's Day Murders: Ruth Dudley Edwards

This is book 2 in the Robert Amiss series, following on Corridors of Death, which I read and reviewed earlier. The first two books in the series feature office settings, and focus on bureaucracy and office politics. We often complain about bureaucracy in the business world, but I have never experienced anything like these workplaces.

Robert Amiss is a British civil servant and has recently been transferred to the British Conservation Corporation. He had been expecting a secondment to a job in industry, and a position that would lead to a better position in the civil service in the future. What he gets is a job pushing papers and managing men who are more disgruntled than he is.

Based on the title of the book, the reader is expecting murders on Valentine's Day, but it takes quite a while to get to that point. And the characters and the interactions within the office setting are so innocuous that it is surprising when crimes do occur. There are some practical jokers in Robert's department, and the pranks initially seem harmless but gradually escalate. But, when the murders do take place, they are quite horrendous. Not so much in the way of violence, but because so many innocent victims are claimed.

And at that point the pace does pick up. Once Robert has been cleared of any connection to the murders, he again works closely with the police to try to uncover the villain. In the first book in the series, Amiss met Jim Milton, a Scotland Yard detective, and his wife, so they are already friends when this crime takes place. And Ellis Pooley, the young detective who is obsessed with fictional sleuths, makes his debut here.

My thoughts:

Initially I was disappointed with this book, because I had enjoyed the first book in the series tremendously. I rarely have any problem with the crime being delayed until later in the story yet in this case the initial part of the story dragged for me.

The author tells a humorous story with excellent dialog, and the recurring characters are well done, but in this second book I did not enjoy the secondary characters as much.  Nevertheless, I am still enthusiastic about the series, and I will continue reading these books.

Praise for this book:

"The Saint Valentine’s Day Murders is a witty, well-written mystery as well as a keenly observed and cynically funny view of modern bureaucracy and the people who work in it."
  --  Michael Foley, Irish Times

Kirkus Reviews was somewhat disappointed with the plot, as I was, but still said:
"a wry, smart, surprisingly warm-hearted diversion--with one choice vignette after another (even the subsidiary cops are amusingly sketched) and some of the best office-life comedy since Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise."

Also see reviews at Jillysheep and RogerBW's Blog.


Publisher:  Poisoned Pen Press, 2007. (orig. publ. 1984)
Length:  225 pages
Format:  Trade Paperback
Series:   Robert Amiss #2
Setting:  London, UK
Genre:   Mystery
Source:  On my TBR pile for one year.


Rick Robinson said...

Not having read the first of the series, I doubt I would have patience with this one.

TracyK said...

Probably not, Rick. I was surprised how many people liked it a lot. Different tastes, of course. I might have skipped reviewing the book, but it I had saved it for Valentine's Day, so decided to go ahead.

Cath said...

Not great on office based books or TV series, probably because I've worked in one and could never stand the office politics. It could also be why one of the two Wimsey books I've yet to read is Murder Must Advertise, which is mentioned in one of the praise comments funnily enough.

Margot Kinberg said...

Thanks for your candor, Tracy. I know what you mean about having to wait a long time for the (first) murder to occur in a crime novel. Most readers, I think, want the plot to move along faster than that, and I can certainly see how that would hold a story back for you. I do like the Amiss character, and I think the series has some wit in it. But, as you say, if the secondary characters aren't particularly interesting, and the plot doesn't pick up, it's easy to lose some interest in the story.

TracyK said...

The worst I have encountered in work situations is office gossip, Cath. Office politics has usually been more of a problem in the managerial areas where I worked, seen from afar. Murder Must Advertise is my 2nd favorite in the Wimsey series. Although when I reread it, I thought it had some tedious spots.

TracyK said...

Margot, the next book I have to read in this series is The English School of Murder, which I hope to enjoy more. You are right, it is Edwards' wit that makes the reads entertaining but sometimes she goes over the top, in my opinion.

Katrina said...

I must admit that I prefer the crime to occur fairly early on in a book, so this one probably wouldn't suit me.

TracyK said...

I will be curious to see if the author follows the same format in her next book, Katrina. A new setting may make a difference too.

col2910 said...

I quite like a back drop of office politics. It's funny how you can relate it to your own work experiences and environments (maybe without murder).

Clothes in Books said...

I'm like Col - I like an office backdrop and some gossip and politics. I don't have a problem with a late murder if my interest has been kept up, but this sounds less than perfect... But well done for finding a seasonal title!

TracyK said...

I have liked other mysteries involving office politics, Col, but it does help to have some likable characters. In this book, only the hero and the police were really sympathetic. However, in the end, a good book and I will stick with the series.

TracyK said...

I did like doing a Valentine-themed mystery near Valentine's Day, Moira, even though that holiday is not a favorite for me.

Unknown said...

Please tell Cath that Murder Must Advertise, in my opinion, is one of the greatest books ever written.