Foul Play at Four
Ann Purser

ISBN-13: 978-0425243596
Publisher: Penguin Group
Line: Berkley Hardcover
Release Date: Dec 6, 2011
Pages: 320
Retail Price: 24.95

Genre: Mystery

Lois Meade has worked through all the days of the week, turning up clues and scrubbing up messes and murderers in the village of Long Farnden. But sleuthing is rarely a spotless endeavor...

A series of robberies have begun to plague Long Farnden, and Lois's own daughter, Josie, is shaken when a thief makes off with a hundred pounds from the till in her grocery shop. But before her policeman fiancé can crack the case, someone cracks Lois's husband on the head when he interrupts a burglary in progress. Now Lois-and the besotted Inspector Cowgill-must determine who's cleaning out Long Farnden, and clean up after an increasingly violent crime spree...

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Life is never quiet in the little village of Long Farnden; it seems every time amateur sleuth Lois Meade helps Inspector Hunter Cowgill catch a criminal, another miscreant pops up to take his place. Or, in this instance, two miscreants: a pair of thieves has been stealing from area homes and businesses, and has thus far managed to evade capture. 

Lois hasn’t really paid much mind to this particular crime wave – that is, until the thieves make the mistake of targeting her family.  First, the pair shows up at her daughter Josie’s store and makes off with the contents of her cash register.  And then, as if that weren’t enough to attract her attention, they attack her husband Derek when he attempts to thwart their robbery of the local magistrate’s home.  Lois is determined to bring the crooks to justice, and there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind she’ll succeed; the only question is, can she catch her quarries before their spree acquires a body count?

Foul Play at Four by Ann Purser is a delightful, character-driven tale of gossip, mayhem, and murder in a small English village. It’s the eleventh of Purser’s Lois Meade Mysteries, and I enjoyed it quite thoroughly despite having read only two of the previous ten installments.

The book’s an odd sort of mystery in that the reader knows whodunit from the outset; the only question is just how thoroughly things will spin out of control before Lois can identify the culprits and arrange for their arrest.  I think I said of one of Purser’s earlier books that it was less a mystery novel than it was a novel about a mystery, and that description certainly applies here.  That said, however, it’s a tremendously compelling novel about a mystery, and I, for one, found it difficult to put down. The pace is brisk, the prose is lively, and the intricate plot is made even more entertaining by Purser’s artfully crafted rotating third-person narration.

The cast is quirky, fun, and decidedly British, and the characters are so marvelously well-drawn that Purser’s story practically springs to life on the page.  Lois is a strong, smart, determined heroine; Dot makes for a charming and hilarious sidekick; and brothers Gerald and Clive are perhaps two of the most hapless, incompetent, and thoroughly entertaining criminals you could ever have the misfortune to meet.

In sum, this book is just a pleasure to read.  If you’re a fan of Kate Kingsbury and Martha Grimes and are looking for something new to add to your TBR pile, look no further than Ann Purser's Foul Play at Four.

Reviewed by Kat