Pagan Spring is the third of G.M. Malliet’s novels set in a fictional southern English county that reads like a cross between Hampshire and the Cotswolds. A new arrival to Nether Monkslip, the self-obsessed actor/ playwright Thaddeus Bottle, wastes no time in upsetting as many of the villagers as he can. Spoiler alert (as if you hadn’t guessed): he is promptly murdered, and the widow asks former MI5 man turned vicar, Max, to help.
He is busy pining for his pagan girlfriend, Awena, who for some reason has been exiled for the majority of this volume, presumably to allow him to get on with some detecting instead of moping around like a big girl’s blouse. Among the villagers, many of the suspects are attending the Writers’ Square, and there are plenty of jokes about the perils of the writing life. Malliet seems to be relaxing into her characters, allowing them free rein, and she’s clearly had some fun with them this time. It’s a light undemanding read, despite the sombre turn at the end.
(One ignoble thought – surely picking a title sequence with only four options (we’ve already had autumn and winter) was a little short-sighted? Even Sue Grafton probably thought she had wiggle room to spare by choosing letters of the alphabet, and yet now here we are, at W already…)