Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd: Something of a surprise

Back in the very early days of this blog, I reviewed Peter Ackroyd’s Three Brothers having not read anything by him for quite some time. I ended the review wondering if it was time to read his more recent novels. Seven years later, Mr Cadmus turned up. This prettily presented novella, all set to be piled up alongside tills ready for Christmas, has its toes in all manner of genres as it follows two occupants of a three-cottage terrace in the 1980s, soon to be joined by a third.

Maud Finch and Millicent Swallow live at numbers 1 and 3, The Coppice, respectively. Both in their fifties, these two are inseparable. When the flamboyant Mr Cadmus arrives in his canary yellow car, wearing colourful clothes and clearly Italian, the whole of Lower Camborne is agog, not least Maud and Millicent. Soon he’s paid them both visits, bearing chocolates and inviting them around for drinks. Before long, all three have become regular companions. The two women introduce Mr Cadmus to the locals and show him the sights, each increasingly keen for his attention. Maud and Millicent may appear to be prim spinsters but both have dark secrets, well buried, as does Mr Cadmus who has some accounts to settle stretching back to his childhood on the island of Caldera and a nasty encounter with six members of the Little Camborne Regiment during the Second World War. Shortly after his arrival, the life of this sleepy Devon village becomes increasingly eventful keeping the local constabulary busy and tongues wagging.

The fictional detectives are always the best. Like fictional murders. Much more satisfying

At first, I’d assumed Mr Cadmus to be a cosy crime pastiche but Ackroyd very soon takes his readers down some very dark roads in this tale of revenge and greed which blows a hole in the idyll of village life. Ackroyd manages to steer his three main protagonists away from caricature but there are a few pantomime-turns, including an enjoyably profane parrot, which contrast startlingly with the novel’s darker aspects. The plot is suitably twisty, and twisted, but this is a spoiler-free zone so I’ll avoid too much detail. Suffice to say there’s a Post Office armed robbery, which will ring bells for anyone living in ’80s rural Britain, and more murders than you could shake a stick at, not to mention a vicar absconding with the parish treasures. Throughout it all, Ackroyd’s tongue is clearly firmly in his cheek. A few too many ventures into the supernatural for me and I wasn’t at all sure about the ending, but I enjoyed the journey there. If you’re looking for a quirky caper with more than a bit of bite Ackroyd’s novel could well fit that bill.

That’s it from me until next week. I’m off with H to the New Forest for a few days to celebrate my birthday. I’m hoping to spot a pony or two while H has his heart set on pigs rooting amongst the acorns.

Canongate Books: Edinburgh 9781786898944 186 pages Hardback

30 thoughts on “Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd: Something of a surprise”

  1. Plenty of surprises in this post, Susan, not least that I do not associate this kind of book with Ackroyd at all! And before I started reading, my immediate thought was whether Mr Cadmus would be somehow distantly related to Mr Tumnus! Anyway, have a lovely break in the New Forest – a great time of year to visit – and wishing you a very happy birthday when it arrives

    1. Thanks, Liz. It’s today and has been lovely so far.

      Definitely no relation! Yes, it’s quite a departure for Mr Ackroyd. I wonder if he’ll write anything like this again or perhaps come up with something entirely different for his next book.

  2. I just finished reading this last night. I’m still not sure what I made of it. As you say, it certainly took a turn from what I expected. Have a lovely break. Fingers crossed for ponies and pigs!

  3. Many years since I read Ackroyd, but this sounds a little different from the couple I read back in the mid 90s.it sounds very appealing indeed.
    Have a good time away.

  4. Sounds intriguing! I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by this author, who I always seem to confuse with John Banville for some reason. I hope you had a lovely Birthday yesterday. Enjoy your break!

  5. Madame Bibi Lophile

    I’ve enjoyed the few Ackroyd I’ve read and this does sound good but I’m not sure about the supernatural elements. Hope you’re having a lovely time Susan!

  6. What a striking cover. And I can see where the unexpected note of darkness would be the perfect foil for that set-up. I’ve only read one of his books myself. Hope you are still enjoying your getaway and are still finding new ways to spoil yourself for your birthday!

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