⭐Simon Brett. Waste of a Life (The Decluttering mysteries, 3). December 6. 192 pages. Severn.
What do you remember most about a Simon Brett novel? The characters. Brett, a genius at writing traditional mysteries, has created several series over the years, all based on personalities that draw readers back again and again. These days, Brett has two series in the works, the long-standing Fethering mysteries—featuring two sort-of best friends in a very English village—and a newer series featuring professional declutterer Ellen Curtis. Having a declutterer as your protagonist is inspired: they allow for easy access into other people’s lives—through their stuff—whether those people are dead or alive. Here, Ellen has been hired to work with Cedric Waites, an octogenarian who hasn’t left the house since his wife died years ago. Yes, there are mountains of empty frozen-dinner containers, but Ellen is slowly making headway with Cedric. Only to find him, one day, dead. And not just dead, but likely murdered, with Ellen one of the suspects. The novel goes deeply into Cedric’s past, marriage, and his dealings with his awful son and even worse daughter-in-law. But more compelling is Ellen and her relationships with her two adult children, both of whom are deeply troubled, and both of whom end up moving home at some point. The publisher describes this as a light-hearted mystery. It’s not. It’s actually a darn good novel about families—the good, the bad, and the ugly—set against a murder inquiry.—Brian Kenney