Let’s start with the truth: despite the catchy title of The Bingo Hall Detectives, only one of the ‘detectives’ in this hilarious novel actually plays Bingo. If you were hoping to get your Bingo fix from this story, let me give you a gentle warning that there aren’t that many scenes in the Bingo hall or even that much Bingo ‘talk.’ All the same, this story is captivating, clever, and so funny.
It begins with Jason Brazel driving his mother-in-law, Amita Khatri, to her weekly Bingo game, where they learn that one of her fellow players has fallen from a ladder while washing windows, broke her neck, and died. Everyone gathers to mourn Madeleine Frobisher with a cup of tea and biscuits, sharing beautiful memories of her kindness and generosity to the community. But Amita, called the ‘Sherriff of Penrith’ by her son-in-law because she has a finger in every pie, is sure that something fishy has gone down.
Using her considerable ability to push her son-in-law’s buttons, Amita cajoles him into a reluctant murder investigation, which takes them across the Lake District and into more than one dangerous situation. Jason, a recently unemployed print journalist, would rather be safe at home doing a half-hearted job search, but his guilt at seeing the way his mother-in-law is energized by tracking down leads causes him to act as her chauffeur, researcher, and rescuer on more than one occasion.
They team up with a retired nightclub bouncer (he really does play Bingo), go toe-to-toe with an oily and unscrupulous property developer, and find themselves chased by a farmer with a shotgun as they search for a viable suspect in what the police maintain is an accidental fall but Amita is still convinced must have been murder. Their prickly relationship with the local police is one that could have been a comic novel of its own. They are both ‘guests’ of the police on more than one occasion and Amita’s speech about why she should not be taken into custody should not be missed.
Although the main element of any good murder-mystery is the solving of a crime, it isn’t the part that makes this novel stand out from all of the others published each week. It’s the way that the relationship between Jason and Amita develops that kept me turning pages. When they are first introduced, they are snipping at each other in the car – Amita giving Jason grief about speeding, being unemployed, seemingly slightly disappointed in the choice her daughter made for a husband, and Jason being so fully aware of this and wanting more than anything to just be away from her. And slowly but surely, when they start spending more time together, they begin to see each other’s strengths and develop more respect and affection toward one another. They are written so much like a real family that when they finally do catch their murderer, it’s like watching two neighbours or familiar friends finally reach a goal.
I was sorry to read the final pages but thrilled to learn that author Jonathan Whitelaw will publish a sequel this year (currently called The Village Hall Vendetta). We’ll just have to wait and see if there really is a village hall or a vendetta in that novel or not. I’ve already been fooled by his publisher once…
Photo credit: The Scots Magazine