MURDER WITH THE LOT is set in the fictional Mallee town of Rusty Bore, featuring Cass Tuplin, fish and chip shop owner, mother, and self-appointed private investigator. The story is told all from Cass's viewpoint, a viewpoint which is somewhat skewed towards a ... how should we put this ... less than realistic outlook. Not only is the Mallee still deep in the middle of the drought that just about broke everyone's spirit, but Rusty Bore is a town that's been hit particularly hard. Loss of people to the "Big Smoke" just down the road, loss of passing traffic, loss of money and even interest from the locals, means that Rusty Bore is quietly rusting to a close. Which doesn't stop Cass from opening the fish and chip shop daily, dolling out the dim sims and a hefty dose of nosiness to the few people she comes across. All the while barracking for her son the cop from the nearest town, and under-estimating her other son, the less successful activist, who comes and goes from the family home. Not that Cass hasn't had her fair share of disappointment, what with the sudden death of her beloved husband, and a passing recognition that there may not be a future in her current life.
Needless to say the storyline of MURDER WITH THE LOT is set up for humour. There are wise cracks and in jokes coming at the reader from all sides. There's the expected red-headed chip shop owner references, the mad mother stuff, the long-suffering son stuff, and the potential merger with the one-armed bloke that runs the General Store... stuff. There's also a lot of slapstick with accidental shootings, much rushing about, car's with non-working door's and love interests who might be a bit dodgy. And there's that good old chestnut - the disappearing body - to be toyed with for quite a long time.
Part of the problem with that sort of first-person viewpoint of everything is that the reader is really going to have to identify with Cass, and she is a very funny character. For a while. Until the point where the humour did seem to become somewhat heavy-handed and repetitive. Which was a pity, as there were ever such tiny glimpses of pathos and self-awareness that just occasionally managed to get their heads above the tide of jokes and thick skin of our Cass.
All of which probably sounds like I didn't really like this book, which isn't strictly true. The central plot was an interesting idea, and I'd be barracking for anything set out here in the bush which doesn't immediately make out that the whole place has mad, toothless locals lurking behind every saltbush just waiting for a city person to terrorise.... I think my real problem with MURDER WITH THE LOT is that I wasn't convinced that Cass needed to play the daft card quite as often as she did. Perhaps it's another book for fans of light-hearted crazy, with a crime at the centre that's less confrontational than you'd think what with shootings, and missing bodies and all. It is, however, probably a book for locals. I suspect overseas readers might be begging for a map, a dictionary of local terminology, a short course in the in-jokes, a compass and probably a tour guide...