Tuesday, December 29, 2015

29. Play Dead by Peter Dickinson

Peter Dickinson was one of my parents favourite authors, but I never got into him (other than his young adult series starting with the Weathermonger) the way I did with other British mystery writers of that period.  It may be that he is just a bit too adult and sophisticated compared with Gilbert, Ambler, etc.  He died this year and received the appropriate respect and I thought I should, being practically an adult myself, read more of his books. 

Play Dead is told from the perspective of Poppy Tasker, a 50-year old recent divorcée in late 80s London who has reluctantly taken on the job of nannying her grandson.  She struggles with the role, feeling pegged into the role of a gran when she still has career and romantic aspirations.  Despite her reluctance, she does begin to enjoy the social complexities of the other caregivers at the play group where she takes her grandson.  Things get more than interesting when a man is seen creepily peeping at the children, then ends up dead–stripped naked, his genitals decorated with flowers– a few days later, in the park where the children play.  There are also several other plotlines going on, involving a squat of radicals, the local election and her own romantic involvement with several men in the community.

The mystery was really quite good and complex and I enjoyed reading from the perspective of this different character, who was not happy with her situation, but never became maudlin or annoying.  You slowly realized what a remarkable person she was despite her own inability to see it.  Still, it was all just a tad too reflective (though some of the reflections were quite interesting) for me to be drawn in and I'll definitely continue to read Dickinson, I believe my initial hesitations were not misplaced.  He is a great author, but perhaps just a tad too intelligent for a simpleton like me.

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