"The small town of Brompton-in-the-Vale was basking in the warmth of an exceptionally clement spring morning. Though it was only May, the air was redolent with the scent of apple blossom and lavender, all nature having been tricked into thinking summer had finally arrived. Temperatures had been balmy all through the past fortnight; and in the little cottage on the edge of the village the wood stove had been unemployed since easily as long. Penelope Dunston was now sitting staring out the window in her living room, contemplating stepping out. Would she or wouldn't she? A tawny Pekinese dog by her side leapt up from the basket in which he's been dozing for the past hour and yelped once."
The Mysterious Moxie is the second book in the Zack and Milton series by Jos Van Brussel.
Penelope Dunston is an eccentric, old hermit. The only contact she has on a regular basis is with her dog, Jack. It is Jack who hears the strange sound upstairs, and it is Jack who finds the corpse upon exploring, followed shortly after by Penelope's. The little dog is thanking his lucky stars that his overbearing misery of an owner has kicked the metaphorical bucket, when the first corpse gets up.
It is of course Zack Zapp, one half of the main duo. Groggy and confused, he is startled to find a small dog yapping at him- even more so when he discovers Penelope's dead eyes boring into him from the closet. He decides he best be getting back to his best friend and colleague, Milton.
Milton is the brain to Jack's brawn. The two are arguably the worst spies ever. Think along the lines of Get Smart or Pink Panther, except everyone is aware of how terrible they are. The two Belgians try their best, but are unfortunately a few muffins short of a picnic hamper. You may wonder how they managed to get the job then. Well it all started with two beautiful women, as always. The next thing they knew, they were up to their necks in the spy game, landing them the eternal thanks of His Holiness the Pope and a job with MI5.
Of course when MI5 realised their mistake (which was very quickly), they were deposited in the small village of Brompton-in-the-Vale, and put to the back of MI5's mind. The job- assume the guises of the clergy and uncover an alleged spy network in the little hamlet. So far, the progress has been less than satisfactory, and both men have succeeded in making enemies of the locals. What can you expect when you accuse the local doctor of being a serial killer?
It seems the spy network isn't the only thing foul around Brompton, as a string of murders has recently begun. Five to be exact. All old women, all unmarried or widowed. The boys have their work cut out for them.
But even more foul play is afoot. It seems there's a thief roaming around, with their eye on the Brookridge Paintings. So far two have been stolen from the local museum, and the local fuzz are on the job. All two of them.
Yes it's all go in the small hamlet, what with murders, thieves, spies, romance, fierce beard vs moustache competition, and disappearing facial hair. There's certainly never a dull moment.
This is first and foremost a comedy. With very tongue-in-cheek humour, that borders on slapstick. If you're expecting a mystery, there is one, but it's mostly ignored, in favour of missing pig paintings and beards.
It can be a little random, as we segue from character to character and back again, making it hard to determine who the main character is. The blurb suggests Jimmy, the story suggests the resident MI5 wannabe's (whose series it is). I would say the series is about the 'wonderful adventures of Milton and Zack', while this book is focused more on 'the story of a lovestruck Jimmy'. Milton and Zack are still important characters, but plot wise- the residents are the main focus.
This is the kind of crime story with misconceptions abound. The word that comes to mind- hijinks. Yes, it's that kind of mystery book. The whole story is riddled with false assumptions and overzealous characters, all determined to succeed in whatever seemingly life-changing tasks they appoint themselves. With quite a large cast, there's plenty of possibility for crossed lines. What I call a little case of the 'Chinese Whispers'. Everyone seems to have a different view of what's going on.
As I mentioned, this is the second book in the series. I have not read the first one, but I don't think it hindered the understanding of this story in any way. I'd say it's more likely that Zack and Milton are the recurring characters pulled through the various stand-alone stories. There are a lot of flashbacks to what I assume is the first story, and they are vague enough to be noodle incidents. Basically, someone casually retelling a story with only the most basic, unimportant events- and are usually bizarre, and leave those out of the loop wondering what on earth happened. An example, it's like that time we woke up on a lilo in the middle of the desert, with nothing but a goldfish and a pair of fluffy dice. Yes ladies and gentlemen, that is an example of a noodle incident, and no, it is not part of this story. Noodle incidents are pretty good tools for rousing a person's curiosity though, so work well for promoting the previous book. Especially as there are so many noodles in this story, it could rival Wagamama's.
This is very much light entertainment. It's more comedy than murder mystery. It's a little drawn out for what it is- which is essentially nonsense- but it's not so long as to lose the interest. The conclusion (when we get to it) is as absurd as the rest of the book, but in a somehow-it's-all-prefectly-logical way. It's not so much that it doesn't make sense, more that you can't believe it does.
Oh, and boy does this story have a mountain-load of revelations. They just keep coming, piling on top of each other, contending for which is the biggest and most shocking. Though not to us, as we're made aware of pretty much every truth from the start- with the exception of a couple.
As to the mysterious moxie? It has as much to do with a secret spy network as anything else. I'll leave you to interpret that as you may.
Overall, a comedic story- with not quite as much wit as Pink Panther or Get Smart, but still enough to make you laugh. If you're not a fan of over-the-top humour this may be a miss for you, but fans of it will rejoice in the overflowing amount of it in this story. For me personally, it wasn't so much that it was distracting, more that it slipped into padding mode. Not that much actually happens in the book, it's more of a 'what will they do next?' kind of story. However, I think if you go in expecting more of a comedy than a mystery it would be more enjoyable. I went in expecting a mystery- albeit a funny one- and was a little disappointed in the lack of it.
As for the unlikely 'spies'? The show must go on. Onto the next adventure. I wish good luck to the unfortunate next recipients of the boys' zeal. To all the Jacksons of the world fated with meeting them, you have my sympathies.
Disclaimer: I received this book through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.