Maxwell's Mask by M J Trow
|Maxwell's Mask by M J Trow|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Peter 'Mad Max' Maxwell, head of Sixth Form at Leighford High investigates several deaths which might, or might not, be suspicious. The book's well written and witty with a devious solution. Definitely worth reading.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: April 2007|
|Publisher: Allison & Busby|
Deena Harrison had always been a problem for Leighford High School. There was the small matter of setting fire to the toilet block when she was only just into double figures. A year later she threw Ollie Wendell down the stairs of the science block. But she had some advantages too. She was a born actress with the voice of an angel, so the headmaster of the time moved heaven, earth and a few Equal Opportunities initiatives to ensure that she stayed in the school. The staff thought that this was all in the past, but in the autumn after her time at Oxford she came back to help out because of a crisis in the drama department. As usual there were problems around Deena - this time people started dying - and Mad Max, Deena's old Head of Sixth Form, was there to investigate.
I've been a fan of crime fiction all my life, but there's one part of the genre that usually leaves me less than enthused and that's The Civilian Investigator. Generally they do ridiculous things, interfere with the police, who are generally portrayed as bumbling idiots and pull off an unlikely solution against all the odds. It was with some trepidation that I picked up Maxwell's Mask, but I was hooked from the first page.
M.J. Trow is a full-time history teacher who has been writing crime fiction for the last seventeen years and he wisely sticks to writing about what he knows best. Mad Max - Peter Maxwell to those he doesn't teach - is a history teacher and the atmosphere of Leighford High took me back to my own school days. I could smell it, feel it. He brings out the humour, rivalry and pettiness perfectly. He's a likeable character too, sympathetic but less than perfect and cycling to and from school or in pursuit of evidence. His partner, Detective Sergeant Jacquie Carpenter, is about to have their baby. 'Woman Policeman' he calls her, but I must confess that was becoming a little wearing by the end of the book.
It's a cracking good story though. The deaths are, well, very ordinary as deaths go. In the theatre where the school is rehearsing Little Shop of Horrors a ladder falls and kills the man painting scenery. An elderly lady falls down her stairs. A bare cable makes contact with a wet foot with sizzling results. It's only the fact that all three are associated with the Arquebus Theatre that arouses suspicions. The police are uncertain whether they're dealing with accidental deaths or murder and have a psychic foisted upon them to help them make up their minds. The solution is ingenious, completely believable and very satisfying. I didn't see it coming because I had an entirely different person in the frame.
My thanks to the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.
Good books about civilian investigators are as rare as hen's teeth, but Bookbag can recommend an old novel that's recently been re-issued - The Coroner's Pidgin by Margery Allingham. If you're interested in the use of psychics in the course of police investigations you might like to try Dead Simple by Peter James, but it isn't a patch on this book despite having done rather well in the best-seller lists. For another good story set in a school and written by a teacher, you might like to try Where the Truth Lies by Rosemary Ingham.
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