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Death in Devon by Ian Sansom

Death in Devon

by Ian Sansom

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Swanton Morley, the People's Professor, receives an invitation to be the guest speaker at All Souls school in Rousdon, where a friend of his is the headmaster. Sensing an opportunity to write a book on Devon in his series The County Guides, Morley, along with his assistant Stephen Sefton and his daughter Miriam, sets off south in the Lagonda. But the rural idyll doesn't last long before a tragic accident occurs (or was it?) and sinister goings-on are revealed. Business as usual, then.

I can see why readers' opinions are split on this series, as the character of Swanton Morley is quite insufferable at times, but it is Sefton who pulls the book out of the fire with his rather laconic remarks and wry sense of humour. Stephen Sefton is everything Swanton Morley isn't - and vice versa - though Morley's way of thinking and erudition are clearly having an effect on his long-suffering assistant. I do agree that the mystery could have been developed better as it was rather delegated to the sidelines, and it was not difficult at all to discover the culprit behind the disappearances and other creepy events. Sansom writes with a keen sense of the absurd, and the plot and characters can't possibly be taken seriously, though I feel the person that's portrayed most realistically is Sefton, who grounds the narrative and the plot. Even more so than The Norfolk Mystery, Death in Devon has at its heart a very dark core, both in terms of Sefton's still being haunted by his experiences in the Spanish Civil War and the human relationships at the centre of the mystery, despite all its light-heartedness. ( )
  passion4reading | Jun 23, 2016 |
Marley is overbearing and really overshadows what happens in the story line and the characters to me are boring.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  druidgirl | Mar 31, 2016 |
Professor Swanton Morley drives to Devon with 2 friends in his Lagonda on a tour of the English Riviera.
Whilst there he discovers that a child who was a pupil at a school he is visiting has died in mysterious circumstances.
This is Devon in its heyday of the 40's.
A history lesson mixed with tales of the occult.
Great fun!
I was given a digital copy of this novel by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review. ( )
  Welsh_eileen2 | Jan 23, 2016 |
I am with Kate Vane the earliest negative reviewer on Amazon. Morley is just too awful and his awfulness overshadows anything interesting that happens in the book.

I received a review copy of "The County Guides - Death in Devon" by Ian Sansom (HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project) through NetGalley.com. ( )
  Dokfintong | Apr 23, 2015 |
I've read and enjoyed a few Ian Sansom novels. Ring Road succeeded in both gently mocking and celebrating small-town life and had real poignancy. The mobile librarian cosies are light and amusing. So Death in Devon - my home county - should have been ideal for me. But the book is a real disappointment.

The set up is that Sefton, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, is working as secretary and assistant to an eccentric polymath and prolific author named Swanton Morley. Along with Morley's daughter, Miriam, they set off to Devon to research the latest in Morley's county guides series, and visit the public school where his friend is headmaster. And just happen upon a crime.

Morley is supposed to be the larger-than-life character who dominates the story but the problem for me is he is intensely irritating. We hear his opinions on everything from Dickens to apple pressing to surfing, sometimes through wearisome dialogue, at other times as Sefton quotes (at length) from Morley's supposed works. There is endless scene setting with little happening. There is constant cerebral name-dropping of Thirties cultural figures.

I can sort of see that the author is referencing Sayers and her contemporaries - the plot that is marginal to the story, the way that working-class characters are either invisible or shifty, the drone of pseudo-intellectual conversation - but for a parody to work it has to be funny and sharp and this is neither. It's baggy and boring.

It's a shame because there is potential here. There are hints at times that Sansom might be trying to take on the Golden Age and show what lay behind it. Sefton recalls the brutality of school bullying and racism - from teachers as well as pupils. He also refers to his traumatic experiences in Spain. He shows sensitivity and insight into Morley (which of course is never reciprocated) and is a sympathetic character.

The book has some interesting themes but they don't feel fully developed. Could do better.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. ( )
  KateVane | Mar 12, 2015 |
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And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.

Isaiah 13: 19-22
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Morley and Sefton
uncover creepy events
at a public school.

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