The first book in the mystery series about Chief Inspector Richard Jury.

Just a few days before Christmas, two men are found brutally and weirdly killed in two pubs. At the Man with a Load of Mischief the dead man’s head had been stuck into a large beer barrel. At the Jack and Hammer, a mechanical man had told the time in the pub’s sign and now the mechanical man had been replaced with a dead body. Both of them are strangers in the small village of Long Piddleton where they were killed.

The Scotland Yard sends Chief Inspector Jury and hypochondriac Sergeant Wiggings to solve the murders. Luckily, or not as the case might be, they get a lot of help from the locals.

Jury himself is quite a serious man. He’s described as a man who “loved winter above all seasons, even spring. He also liked rain over sunshine, mist over a clear view”. There’s also a hint that his only great love affair ended tragically. And yet, the tone of the book is quite comedic with the over-the-top murders and secondary characters. Jury is also methodical and smart. In contrast, Wiggings is mostly a comedic sidekick with his cough drops and constant sneezing.

The other major character in the book is Melrose Plant. He’s the local lord who lives in his manor a little way out of the village. He’s given up his title and the moment he did, his aunt, by marriage, started to call herself Lady Ardry. She thinks that she should be the one to live in the manor because Melrose doesn’t do it right. She also thinks that she’s a great detective because she wrights mystery novels. (She’s been working on her first draft for decades now…)

Plant takes an interest in the case and helps Jury. They discuss the case together and go over the clues.

One of the more humorous characters is the local vicar who knows everything about the local pubs and how their bizarre names came to be. Many of the locals have strong opinions about each other and the murder case.

I found the combination of a melancholy main character and the humorous story to be interesting.