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Sunday, 8 May 2016

John Mortimer - Summer’s Lease by

review written by Ro bennett

It's high summer when Molly Pargeter drags her amiably bickering family to a rented Tuscan villa for the holidays.

This is the advertisement which drew her to La Felicita: "Villa to let near small Tuscan town. Suit couple, early forties, with three children. The villa will appeal in particular to devotees of Italian painting...enthusiasts can take the trail to Sansepolcro and on, across the Mountains of the Moon, to see the sublime 'Flagellation' in the Ducal Palace at Urbino. Those making this journey should ensure that the stopcock is closed and all electrical appliances are switched off before departure. The pleasures of art tend to be diminished by returning to a complete absence of hot bath water."

Molly is sure that the house is the perfect setting for their three-week getaway, but soon she becomes fascinated by the lives of the absent owners - and things start to go horribly wrong …

Furthermore, Molly is saddled with her randy old tease of a father called Haverford Downs, who is absolutely outrageous, manipulating and embarrassing. He writes a controversial column in a New Statesman type of magazine. Meanwhile, after finding a flirtatious post card written to a client who is a divorcee, Molly suspects her dull lawyer husband of having an affair, so the atmosphere is somewhat tense. They have three daughters, Henrietta and Samantha the normal moaning and grumbling hard done by teenagers and Jaqueling the sweeter younger daughter who for some reason adores her grandfather.

This is a mixture of a comedy, adventure and suspenseful murder mystery which kept me guessing - I didn’t have a clue what was actually going on until the end of the book. The various threads of the story are skilfully woven together eventually.

I bought the book because my niece is married to a lovely man called John Mortimer and thought they would enjoy it. I didn’t realise that the author wrote the Rumpole books as well, or that Summer’s Lease was made into a popular BBC TV mini series in the 1980’s, starring Sir John Gielgud.

I loved the book because I love his tongue in cheek writing style which is reminiscent of PG Wodehouse in some ways. I enjoy clever, witty somewhat cynical humour which makes me laugh.  The wide cast of characters are well depicted and they made me chuckle - the author was a very astute observer of human behaviour and personality traits and that is entertaining. The typical teenagers, the wide boy, the snobsI kept thinking, ‘I know someone just like that!’ A very enjoyable read.

Sir John Mortimer was a barrister, playwright and novelist

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