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Corpse in a Guided Cage, by Robert Barnard

Corpse in a Gilded Cage: What Makes This So Special?

Funny mysteries. It’s a genre that many have tried, but few have conquered. The Felony & Mayhem list contains some of the gems of the genre – off the top of my head: Unorthodox Practices, by Marissa Peisman; Unnatural Fire, by Fidelis Morgan; The Herring-Sellers’ Apprentice, by LC Tyler, just about anything by Caroline Graham – but the true master of the snickering snee, so far as I’m concerned, is Robert Barnard. His gleeful, dyspeptic evisceration of “theatricals” in Death and the Chaste Apprentice and Death on the High C’s makes me wheeze with laughter, even on the sixth or seventh reading. And yet, when he turns his pen to more serious stories, as in Out of the Blackout or Skeleton in the Grass, there are few writers who can touch him for nuanced characterization and a specific, incredibly evocative sense of place and time.

So why aren’t we highlighting any of these books? Because Corpse in a Gilded Cage, to my mind, combines the best of all of them. The story, about a Cockney family that inherits an earldom (and the drafty manor house that goes with it) is as deliciously funny as one could possibly desire, but the characterizations – even when they are perfectly embodying “stuffy” or “crass” or “vulgar as a dirty joke in church” – are stunning. I’m particularly fond of the new Earl and his lady (both of whom would much rather be back in their crummy old flat), but Phil, the son and heir (only recently released from Her Majesty’s penal system) is a delightful piece of work. He’ll do you out of your wallet in such charming style that you’ll thank him for doing it and offer him your watch.

I promised a book that would touch on the theme of fresh starts, and a fresh start complete with 27 bedrooms and live-in staff strikes me as the very finest kind. Of course, it isn’t all tea and crumpets, but we’re mystery fans here: Would we want it any other way?

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