Vanishing Act by Charlie Hodges

Proving that advancing years doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with living a sedate, quiet life, Vanishing Act is a sprightly novel, shot through with dark humour.  It’s not afraid to make light of some social taboos, so it might not be to every reader’s taste … that said, I really enjoyed this satirical murder-mystery.

A fast-shuffling page-turner.’
Nicholas Shakespeare

what it says on the cover …

Ex-SAS officer Tom Knight is now a 73-year-old private detective in a seaside town, with a bad leg, a taste for good weed and a morbid fear of growing old. He’s also fallen in love with Fran, a sprightly 52-year-old carer at a retirement home. The bad news is that she’s dumped him for lying about his age.

So when she’s framed for the murder of three old ladies at the home he resolves to win her back by proving her innocence. His quest takes him behind the town’s veil of respectability… He even faces up to his fear of old age and dementia, by going undercover at the care home where the murders happened.

But will it be enough to win back the lady of his dreams?

Proving that you’re just as young as you feel, the Tom Knight mysteries combine delicious comedy with a precision-engineered plot.

PUBLISHED: 17th September 2020
SHELF: Mystery | Murder Mystery | Humour
AUTHOR: Charlie Hodges
PUBLISHER: Farrago Books
FORMATS: Paperback | Kindle

He had, of course, been mocked for moving here. It was true that the elderly flocked to the town, to visit, live or die. Dover for the continent, Eastbourne for the incontinent, his son had reminded him of the ancient maxim more than once. But if you stood on the beach by the pier and half-closed your eyes, the sweep of hotels along the seafront could pass for the south of France. Even when you opened them, there was a stateliness about the buildings, an understated aplomb, that soothed and reassured. There was a seamy underbelly too, hidden in the backstreets where the tourists and trippers never went. If Brighton was a raucous teenager, Eastbourne was a benign, elderly aunt, outwardly respectable and prosperous, yet harbouring guilty secrets behind a graceful façade.

my review

This week I was delighted to finally get acquainted with Tom Knight. I’ve heard a lot about him – all good – and I can honestly say he surpassed my expectations. This gentlemanly ex-military intelligence officer radiates an old-world chivalry, he’s an accomplished cook, has a pleasing appreciation of good wine, smokes the occasional joint, and he’s not afraid to try new things. He’s single but somewhat besotted with Fran, and has the kind of humour that guarantees you’ll enjoy the time you spend in his company. He’s also rather brave, with a few nifty moves in his repertoire making him a surprisingly successful private detective. Oh, and he’s (reluctantly) 73 years old, with no intention of growing old gracefully.

Vanishing Act is the first book in the Tom Knight mysteries; a series that embraces characters of more mature years … but not necessarily more mature outlooks. With their age they’ve mostly outgrown any airs and graces, allowing their zest, vigour and wry, life-lived humour to shine through. Their interactions are rich with an emotional intelligence that only someone with plenty of miles on the clock can carry off.

When the object of Tom’s affection – care home nurse, Fran – is arrested for murdering three residents in the New Horizons nursing home, Tom is hellbent on clearing her name. His detective instincts tell him Fran has been set up, and when he learns the incompetent Detective Constable Bullock is leading the investigation, he’s certain the odds are stacked against the woman of his dreams. But most importantly, he needs to win back Fran’s heart, having been caught out for shaving a few years off his age for his dating profile … fourteen years, to be precise. 

He’ll stop at nothing to get to the truth; from breaking-and-entering, to theft and impersonation, all aided and abetted by his best friend Merv, with the occasional helping hand from Bev, a sympathetic WPC. In the name of love and justice, Knight launches himself into some increasingly madcap encounters … most of which just about manage to maintain a modicum of plausibility … all of which are peppered with laugh-out-loud moments, and enough close shaves to uphold an age-appropriate degree of tension.  

DC Bullock makes a great foil for Knight; the epitome of a boo-hiss baddie.  He’s lazy, a womaniser, and every kind of ‘ist’ you’d hope never to meet. Desperate for a quick conviction to restore his flagging career, and with a reciprocal dislike of Knight, he’s putting more effort into stitching-up Tom than questioning the rigour of his New Horizons murder investigation.  As the case barrels on towards its conclusion Knight and Merv find themselves in one tricky predicament after another, with Bullock edging ever closer to stopping them in their tracks.

I can safely say this is the first book I’ve read where a commode has played a crucial role in a detective’s investigation. Likewise, I’m pretty confident this is the only book I’ve read where a septuagenarian gentleman crashes through a conservatory roof into a hot-tub swingers party, or unwittingly finds himself amongst a clandestine woodland gathering of the East Sussex Dogging Pensioners group. But it’s not all ribaldry; with a nursing home as the crime scene, and heroin as the murder weapon, the story includes characters who are victims of town’s drug problem, as well as many residents of the care home for whom ill health isn’t such a laughable matter.    

Like all good cosy-crime novels, Vanishing Act concludes with a neatly wrapped-up deliverance of justice, albeit tinged with the murders of three elderly ladies, and one young lad. As Knight recounts his exploits to the recently-sprung Fran over a hope-filled lunch date, the reader learns the motive behind the murders … although I’m unclear why three residents of New Horizon’s were targeted when only one was for the benefit of the killer. But has Knight done enough for Fran to overlook his little-white-lie, his extra fourteen years, and his loose crown tooth, or is he destined for a future with only Merv and a benevolent seagull for company?

The sprightly plot strikes an enjoyable balance between genteel and spry, making for a book that’s compelling, highly readable and eminently enjoyable. Pitched as ‘a darkly funny whodunnit’ there are moments when the humour teeters a little too precariously into territory that some readers might find vexatious, with disparaging references about gender, race, and age. I didn’t feel they were written in malice, but the author might want to adjust that for future books. This aside, I enjoyed Vanishing Act for the easy, light-hearted read it’s intended to be. Not only that, but I found myself marking pages with Tom’s rather impressive foodie repertoire, making a note to come back to them for ideas!

Thank you to Farrago Books for sending me a copy of Vanishing Act in return for an honest, impartial review. And my heartfelt apologies for taking an obscene long time to write and share this review!

charlie hodges

In a glittering career since leaving university, Charlie Hodges has worked as a TEFL teacher, a marketing quack, and Father Christmas in a department store. He has also written extensively for television, with credits ranging from Emmerdale to Shaun The Sheep.

Charlie was born in Durban, South Africa. He lived there until the age of fifteen before moving to England where he was educated at Tiffin Boys’ School in Kingston-upon-Thames, and Jesus College, Cambridge. He lives in Tunbridge Wells with his wife, two teenage sons, and a bad-tempered Jack Russell. Vanishing Act is his first novel.


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