The English invented the cozy mystery and Simon Brett—creator of famous characters Mrs. Pargeter and Charles Paris—is a master of the form. The Poisoning in the Pub, the 10th book in the Fethering series, demonstrates the author’s inventiveness within an established genre.

Jude (no surname), an alternative healer, and Carole Sedden, a retired civil servant, have discovered in earlier Fethering books that despite their obvious differences, they are a formidable team when it comes to solving mysteries. On a day when some “off” scallops are served in their local pub, the Crown and Anchor, they are among the group who gets food poisoning. Jude and Carol are friends of the pub owner Ted Crisp and his staff, and given the high standards the kitchen adheres to, they smell something fishy.

In an attempt to attract more visitors to the pub, Crisp lets his mate, Dan Poke—a has-been comic—arrange a comedy night. The event draws the (negative) attention of the neighborhood association and its leading light, Greville Tilbrook. When the show attracts a big crowd, including a number of bikers, an inevitable parking lot melee occurs. The result is in the death of young Ray, a developmentally disabled man employed by Ted.

Already disturbed by what they’ve learned while looking into the scallop incident, Jude and Carole redouble their efforts to find Ray’s killer and uncover the motive behind all the trouble. They eventually discover a pattern linking these crimes to those at other pubs. Another possible murder does nothing to discourage our heroines. They may be “women of a certain age,” but time has done nothing to wither their curiosity or resolve. They are cut from true cozy detective material. I loved Mrs. Pargeter, but I could become very fond of Jude and Carole.

Brett is always readable and often drolly amusing, and he is a man with opinions. In The Poisoning in the Pub, he tackles many social issues: the disappearance of the independent English pub and its conglomerate-owned cookie-cutter replacements; the Iraq war and the treatment of its veterans when they return home; and health and safety standards gone mad (no hanging plants or children playing with conkers lest anyone get hurt).

Finally, although Brett follows the usual cozy rules (no sex or overt violence on the page, etc.), there is considerable vulgarity in one notable scene. Consider yourself warned.

Joanne Collings cozies up with a good book in Washington, D.C.

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