Mark Darcy is no longer in the picture for Bridget, and by now, most Helen Fielding fans know why he’s not there. But no matter the reason for his absence, it’s simply a cheat to go from that happy ending so many years ago to no books at all about their married life together. To open with Mark as gone as gone can be at the outset of the new book is at first confusing, then infuriating, and finally just disappointing.
While I understand Helen Fielding’s desire to shake things up, it didn’t feel like “playing fair” with the audience. Also, it didn’t quite work. The book lurched between moods in a jarring way. To be fair, that is much how real life feels as one passes 50, but fiction, as the saying goes, needs to make more sense. Forced attempts to recall the wacky Bridget of yesteryear (upside down in a tree while wearing a thong, no less) alternate uneasily with moments of touching, heartfelt emotion about her grief over Mark’s death.
Some scenes and images really stuck with me. Bridget recalling how Mark died and how she learned about it, the scene where her mother consoles her, and the owl that flies away near the end of the book–all were beautifully written. Women of a certain age will definitely relate to many of Bridget’s funny/sad experiences–the reading glasses, the stiffening body, the truly hilarious Botox mishap. But by and large, it’s an uneven book and a disappointment.
I suppose I should only give it two stars, but I’m too fond of Bridget–and Helen Fielding–to be that hard on either of them. Here’s hoping Bridget’s allowed to keep this latest happy ending, while Helen moves on to new territory.
Not my favorite in the generally excellent Clare Fergusson mysteries, but still an enjoyable read. The mystery in this entry focuses on a missing girl and a meth lab operation. You’d think that would lead to a roller coaster plot full of suspense. Eventually, it does take off and the action builds to a satisfying conclusion, but it takes Ms. Spencer-Fleming longer than usual to get there. The reason: a much greater focus on the personal lives of Clare & Russ and two supporting characters, Hadley and Kevin.
Indeed, I would say the mystery and suspense elements of the story are more like subplots throughout the first half of the book, which concentrates on the personal drama between newly married Clare and Russ. The shift to focusing so much on character development was unexpected and definitely slowed down the action.
That said, the twist in the kidnapping plot that comes near the end of the book was entertaining and definitely made for a dramatic climax. However, I wish the developments in the main characters’ personal lives could have been integrated more smoothly with the mystery. I truly respect that Ms. Spencer-Fleming does not want her characters to become static, cartoon cutouts, a la Miss Marple, but the lack of balance between the two stories made this a weaker entry in a generally wonderful series.
Every author is entitled to a stumble, though, so I’ll certainly be coming back for the next book. After all, I can’t wait to find out how the “new addition” to the team of Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne will affect their sleuthing abilities.
Note: Unlike most of my reviews, this one was based on an Advanced Reader Edition of the book provided to me by the author. Getting a free book did not affect my review in any way, but reviewers are now required to disclose this information to readers. (And I hope Ms. Spencer-Fleming appreciates the honest review and isn’t too upset about the number of stars!)