Initially, I was attracted by the title. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, I can’t resist a crime novel set at the seaside. There’s something appealing about the setting of a resort, its feeling of being apart, unlike any inland town, its distinctive architecture and position on the edge.
The Seasiders is set in 1964, in a pleasant small holiday resort with cliffs and a harbour. We never learn the name or region. The reader sees various townsfolk through the eyes of Grace Thomas, in her forties, hard-working, on the frumpy side. She and her amiable, lazy husband Dick, run the Sandybank boarding-house, overlooking the sea.
The summer season passes as the guests come and go by train, Grace has her weekly shampoo and set, loads the twin-tub and serves up her traditional English fare. And gradually she uncovers the secrets and quirky goings-on behind the net curtains of her home town,
A.J. Griffiths-Jones writes with a wonderful sense of place. She captures an authentic feeling of provincial life in the first half of the Sixties, making this a very enjoyable read for its social detail alone.
The narrative flows along, peopled with well-observed, believable characters. I found it hard to put down and had to ration chapters to make it last. This is a clever, deceptive novel with moments of black comedy. The Seasiders is hard to categorise, it subverts genres, never being quite what it seems. It reminded me of more than one stand-out Golden Age novel but to name them would give away too much about the plot.
I was also reminded of Colin Watson’s lovely detective series The Flaxborough Chronicles. Written in the 1960s, they too are set among the nefarious intrigues of small-town life. The Seasiders is a delightful read, beautifully written with a wicked sense of fun and unpredictable twists. I didn’t guess the reveal and loved its cleverness.
The Seasiders is the second in A.J. Griffiths-Jones’ mystery series. The first is The Villagers and The Congregation is available now on pre-order.