Sunday, March 1, 2015

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 25


Here’s my book review of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

Retired British Army officer Major Ernest Pettigrew is a modest man with domestic tastes. Since his dear wife died, he’d like nothing better than to shut himself up in their cottage in the village of Edgecombe St. Mary and expire quietly while sipping tea. Not surprisingly, his main problem is not so much grief as loneliness. But his quietude is suddenly disturbed by other worries. His brother Bertie dies, and he must both console the widow and supervise the wake. The event brings an extended visit from Pettigrew’s son Roger, an overachieving wiz of London finance, who attends the funeral with his social-climbing fiancé.

Although Pettigrew must now take on another load of grief, his immediate challenge is the covetousness of family members. Bertie’s widow Marjorie remembers that the brothers inherited a matched pair of antique shotguns. Pettigrew has cared for one of them meticulously, knows how to use it, and Bertie had the other and allowed it to tarnish on a shelf. Marjorie wants the guns sold as a pair at auction. Pettigrew had expected he’d have custody of both guns as family heirlooms. Another claimant on Pettigrew’s worldly goods is son Roger, who expects his father to move into more modest digs and gift him the cottage. Pettigrew fears that either Jemima will gut the place and redecorate garishly, or the couple will turn around the flip the property and pocket a tidy profit. Both the guns and the house represent cherished traditions that no one but Pettigrew intends to honor.
In all this strife, Pettigrew has a growing friendship with and fondness for a widow, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, proprietress of the village shop. They are both shy people, and they court as awkwardly as a pair of pre-teens. Given her Pakistani heritage and Pettigrew’s stuffy pedigree, their love affair is one more indication that longstanding traditions don’t mean so much anymore.

You’ll come to love this crusty and affable fellow, and you may identify with his valiant attempts to maintain his pride and his values he begins to face the challenges of old age.

Toward the end of the book, author Simonson has inserted an episode of violence. In my view, it’s not organic to the plot. It’s as though her agent or editor told her to raise the stakes. Authors, please resist the temptation to smear icing on your freshly baked pound cake, and don’t put both lemon and milk in your tea! Some things are simply not done.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. You may also enjoy my humorous novel Mr. Ballpoint, about a man who said, if you want to do the impossible, you have to do it right away. And be sure to catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.

Postscript  Producers Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan of the Mazur / Kaplan Company have partnered with Kevin McCormick of Langley Park Pictures to do the movie version and hired screenwriter Jack Thorne (Skins) to adapt the novel. So Simonson’s adding that nasty plot point may have been just the right choice – at least, commercially. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Major’s adventures become a franchise for a spinoff TV series. However, in my humble view, making him a detective would be an unimaginative and all-too familiar choice, especially if, as I further predict, it gets picked up by the BBC.

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