Picture, if you will, the bucolic English countryside... traveling along a narrow road as it wends its way along verdant hills and valleys... making the occasional detour through a small, picturesque village--the sort comprised entirely of quaint buildings and... well, let’s go with interesting townsfolk, shall we? It’s all quite lovely, really.
Ah, but something vital is missing from this picture. What’s that, you say? Why, a murder, of course! (I’ve never figured out exactly why these charming little places are such hotbeds of murder most foul, but they clearly are, as anyone up on his/her Agatha Christie--or the works of any number of other British authors, not to mention rather a lot of TV shows--can attest.) So, then... let’s say we also happen to have a recent murder to pique our avid curiosities. Surely now the stage is set, yes?
Well, not quite... at least, not in this case. The final piece of our tableau involves a bear, you see... and not just any old bear, but a teddy bear. Erm, make that a talking (also driving, employed, and somewhat-irritable) teddy bear (yes, really, so kindly lower those eyebrows!), positioned as the main character in author Mitzi Szereto’s--and writing buddy Teddy Tedaloo’s--delightfully-quirky spin on the traditional cozy mystery, Normal for Norfolk.
Far from the madding crowds of London... that’s where intrepid photojournalist Thelonious T. Bear wants to be, so when opportunity--in the guise of a magazine job searching for the “real England”--knocks on his door, Thelonious gladly up and vacates his apartment and sets off across the English countryside in his Union Jack-emblazoned Mini.
His destination of choice is Norfolk County, an area famously-eccentric enough to have its own phrase--”Normal for Norfolk”--bandied all over England. (What counts as “normal” there would apparently be considered quite odd, elsewhere.) It all sounds like a dream come true to our hustle-and-bustle-weary hero, and he arrives in the village he’s chosen as his base of operations fully expecting to be won over by the environs.
There, however, is the rub... for what he finds shortly after setting himself up in the town’s only bed-and-breakfast isn’t the idyllic setting he’d envisioned, but a place in a tizzy over the recent murder of a much-liked pub owner. Murders just don’t happen there, the Norfolk residents keep repeating (rather erroneously, since one just did), leaving Thelonious wondering what he’s placed his trainer-clad paws into by taking on this assignment--especially once the county constabulary (in the rotund form of one Detective Chief Inspector Horatio Sidebottom) decides to set his sights solely on the ursine newcomer.
Not one to be deterred from his dream, however, Thelonious sets about his original mission of finding genuinely English things to document photographically, as well as his secondary goal of hopefully fitting in (better than he ever felt he did in the big city).
Just when it seems like he’s getting somewhere, though, Thelonious stumbles on another murder, in a neighboring village... and then another one, in yet another Norfolk town, shortly after that. And, as fate would have it, who should be nearby each time to spot the hapless bear looking around nervously, but the increasingly-suspicious Inspector Sidebottom.
As Thelonious copes with things not squaring with his idea of life in Norfolk--shocking murders, a female innkeeper with a wandering eye (who very much seems to like what she sees in her favorite guest, Mr. Bear), an Audi that keeps barely missing him in the narrow streets, and the unwelcome arrival of trendy (and oh-so-London-y) “gastro-pubs”--plus a few things that really are just what he’d hoped--picturesque surroundings and a lot of lovable oddballs down at the local pub--he has to worry... who will be next to die, and will he end up being blamed for it?
Having poured over the entire Paddington Bear series at my local library as a wee girl (seriously, I adored that little bush-hat-&-duffle-coat-wearing bear), I pretty much had to read Normal for Norfolk when it came across my path. (Not that I actually knew what to expect... sort of a Paddington-all-grown-up thing, perhaps?)
Thelonious T. Bear could be a relative of that other bear’s, I suppose... but one with a very different outlook on life. He drinks, swears, and gets testy (not always at the same time), and has a smart mouth--which he only sometimes manages to stifle. (You know those classic, hard-nosed private dicks? He’s like that... only smaller, furrier, and armed with camera equipment instead of a gun and pack of cigarettes.) He is, of course, small in stature, but like other “little people”, he’s tired of living in a world designed for much-larger beings--and royally fed up to the tippy-top of his beloved deerstalker hat at being made sport of by both children and adults. He may be an adorable (to his chagrin) teddy, but he’s also a smart, capable one--a contributing, tax-paying member of society, even--who just wants the same as everyone else: respect, friendship, some creature comforts, and happiness.
Did it matter that I figured out the who-(and why-)dunnit early on in the story? Not a bit; the fun--as with most cozies, in my experience--isn’t so much in waiting for a big denouement, but in savoring the journey to get there.
I’m looking forward to Thelonious’ next big adventure... because after Normal for Norfolk, you just know there’s gotta be more to come. :)
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: As much fun as a catnip-stuffed teddy has a right to be