Mad Hatter's Holiday
A Sergeant Cribb Investigation by Peter Lovesey
Review: Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackeray are summoned to Brighton when a human hand is found in a crocodile exhibit in Mad Hatter's Holiday, the fourth mystery in this series by Peter Lovesey. Originally published in 1973, Soho Constable is reissuing books in this series as trade paperbacks.
Set in the early fall of 1882, the story opens with Albert Moscrop, a craftsman of optical devices with a shop in London, arriving in Brighton on holiday, and taking "an observer's interest in his fellow-beings" … for what reason or purpose is unknown, but it seems vaguely sinister. The narrative puts the reader in the role of a voyeur as well, "observing" Albert watching everyone else, an oddly compelling, if at times uncomfortable, position. He soon focuses his attention on a family: a well-to-do physician, his third wife, teenaged son from a previous marriage, toddler son with his current wife, and their nanny. Moscrop inserts himself into their lives, first as a hero, saving the toddler, later as a confidant to the wife, who thinks her husband may be trying to poison her.
Midway through the book a woman's hand is found in an exhibit at the local aquarium. The local police realize they need assistance in determining the woman's identity, and call in the Criminal Investigation Department. Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackeray arrive to take over the case, and get immediate assistance from Moscrop, who leads the detectives to believe the hand may belong to the wife of a physician on holiday with his family, to which he has recently become acquainted. But Cribb is suspicious of the man's motives, and the evidence he gathers suggests the hand, and other body parts he later recovers, may be of someone else entirely.
Mad Hatter's Holiday is so deftly plotted it isn't clear to the reader at any time what is true and what isn't, and who to believe and who not to trust. Though relatively short at just over 200 pages, the story is richly detailed and the characters well drawn, the setting with its grand pier a metaphor for the case, providing a contrast between the known above and the unknown below. This truly exceptional novel ends on an ambiguous note, though, which some readers may find unsettling: is the resolution to the crime that Cribb and his associates agree to be the only one plausible, indeed the correct one?
Acknowledgment: Soho Press provided a copy of Mad Hatter's Holiday for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Wobble to Death
Soho Constable (Trade Paperback), October 2008
ISBN-13: 9781569475232; ISBN-10: 1569475237
Soho Constable (Trade Paperback), June 2009
ISBN-13: 9781569475614; ISBN-10: 156947561X
Location(s) referenced in Mad Hatter's Holiday: Brighton, England
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Mad Hatter's Holiday by Peter Lovesey — A Sergeant Cribb Investigation
Publisher: Soho Constable
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: June 2009
List Price: $14.00