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Book review: The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose

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By Simon Demetriou

I don’t know whether choosing to read the sequel of a book that I found offensively awful is behaviour that would be categorised as morbid curiosity or sadomasochism, but whichever of my baser characteristics was to blame, when I found out that Nita Prose (yes, it’s a pseudonym; yes, it’s still ludicrous) had published a follow-up to The Maid, I couldn’t resist getting hold of a copy.

The good news is that The Mystery Guest is less awful than The Maid. That’s not a high bar, but nevertheless, I’m grateful. Once again, the novel is narrated by Molly Gray, a socially awkward maid – now head maid – at The Regency Grand Hotel. Once again, an illustrious man – this time crime author JD Grimthorpe – dies at the hotel. Once again, suspicion falls upon members of the hotel staff (after all, the great truth asserted by the first novel is picked up again by the second, so profound is the wisdom of the statement: ‘the maid is always to blame’). Once again, the detective is comically inept and pointlessly self-sabotaging. And once again, it falls to Molly – this time assisted by her buddy Angela, who keeps bar and produces dialogue that no human on earth would ever actually say – to get to the bottom of things. And, once again, Molly is fuelled in her investigation by the voice of her dead gran, who exists in the present as an incessant stream of platitudes.

However, in The Mystery Guest, Prose’s heavy-handed portrayal of Molly as neurodivergent in some kind of autism/OCD mash-up takes a back seat to a newer angle: Molly as precocious savant whose intellectual brilliance was overlooked by a school system where apparently it was legal to let a child leave school and/or repeat years because of social awkwardness. It’s ok, though, because she can just go to work as a maid with her gran and impress a grouchy aristo enough to be allowed to ‘self-educate’ by reading books in a grand library most of the day. All of which means she can grow up into a gifted maid and a highly unconvincing Sherlock Holmes who can pick up on the difference between the noises produced by different kinds of spoons stirring tea in a china cup.

Basically, The Mystery Guest is still totally implausible and weakly written. But the use of flashbacks every other chapter at least allows us some respite from the world of The Regency Grand, especially as gran is less punchably annoying when depicted as a living person than a disembodied voice. So that’s a plus, I guess.

 

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