‘The Final Game,’ by Caimh MDonnell

In response to this, Gregory’s mouth flapped open and closed in outrage, like a fish that had been slapped in the face with another fish.

Caimh McDonnell’s comic mystery novels are an ongoing entertainment of a pretty high order. They began with the adventures of Paul Mulchrone and Brigit Conroy (called a trilogy, of which this is something like the fifth), amateur private detectives, who hook up with Bunny McGarry, a Falstaffian old policeman, to solve crime. Bunny has been spun off into his own series of adventures in America, but Paul and Brigit soldier on, acquiring in this book, The Final Game, the assistance of James Stewart, a retired cop who (unlike Bunny) does not drink, but keeps falling over anyway, due to an inner ear problem.

Dorothy Graham is a character we know from earlier books in the series. She was a feisty old woman who became Paul’s surrogate mother when he was doing volunteer work with the elderly. She was a brilliant and aggressive player of board games, and immensely rich.

Sadly, Paul comes out of an undercover job to learn that Dorothy is dead. She fell down her stairway while alone. Paul is devastated by the news. But he’ll soon be flabbergasted by her will.

The old woman had a flair for the dramatic, and utter contempt for the idle and self-indulgent step-grandchildren who are in line to inherit her wealth. So she did one better than the old video will gag, where the deceased gets the chance to get the last word on their assembled relatives.

Dorothy has spared no expense to turn the settlement of her estate into a world-class production – literally. She has arranged to make the inheritance a competition. The heirs are to compete in teams of two, in something like a TV reality show, handling various ridiculous and embarrassing challenges. And it’s all to be podcast over the internet.

To Paul’s astonishment, he and Brigit are designated as one of the teams. Dorothy tells them, on video, that she wants them to win the money, rather than her obnoxious step-family. Paul reluctantly agrees, even though it means wearing pink jump suits and Mexican wrestler masks.

But when he learns that Dorothy might have been murdered, it becomes a game of life and death.

Caimh McDonnell excels at this kind of ridiculous story, and the laughs are frequent. It’s also remarkable that there are actually a few really touching moments in the story. The characters are vivid, and we come to care about them (or hate them, depending on which they are).

McDonnell is as funny in his own way as P. G. Wodehouse, and I had a very good time with The Final Game. My only quibble is that he leans pretty heavily on the “smart, tough girls vs. dumb, feckless men” trope, which has been overdone lately. It’s not as new a trope as one might think (it wasn’t even new for Wodehouse), but these days it’s lost all its power through overuse. It’s become a cliché. It’s predictable.

Still, I highly recommend The Final Game. Cautions for language, gross humor, and adult themes.

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