M.G. Mason’s 'Studio Salmonweird' Has Satisfying Satirical Spirit(s)

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Previously, on Salmonweird: retired Detective Inspector (DI) Karl Blackman, sole living human in the cozy coastal Cornish village of Salmonweir, revealed the otherworldy Christmastime killer responsible for the deaths of two of the English ghost town’s spectral inhabitants, dealt with the reappearance of an ex, learned of several matrimonial engagements, and enjoyed copious amounts of mulled wine. What hilarity and hijinks will the next installment bring? Stay tuned and stay put, because the latest adventure is about to begin...

With the traumatic events of U.K. writer M.G. Mason’s second Salmonweird book, the Yuletide-set A Salmonweird Sleighing, four months in the past, the subsequent novel, Studio Salmonweird,continues the drama, comedy, mystery and supernatural shenanigans of its predecessors with all the attendant wit this series has earned a reputation for. It’s now April in Salmonweir, the comfy hamlet where over 500 ghosts have taken up residence, and no less than three simultaneous Hollywood projects have descended upon the area hoping to capitalize on the public’s tabloid-fueled phantom fascination: the BBC procedural Killed In Kernow,hotel-renovation reality show Guesthouse Guru, and the multi-million dollar blockbuster SuperPowered Vigilantes ReUnite! As the flesh-and-blood liaison between Salmonweir’s incorporeal residents and the outside world (and signed on as a police advisor for Kernow), Karl stands at the crossroads of all three productions and is in the wrong place at the wrong time when the real-live murder of a notorious celebrity blackmailer occurs in the local inn’s bathroom. But who could’ve done the deadly deed? One of the four Tinseltown superhero hunks, Chris Aigh, Chris Bea, Chris Scee, or Chris Dee? Eliza Moreno, Guesthouse Guru’s abrasive hotelier host? Secretive medieval monk Jowan? Or is the killer closer than anyone suspects?

Mason is clearly an author in his element here, and this Salmonweird visit is the smoothest outing yet. More conventional than either of its companion tomes in terms of content and execution, Studio doesn’t lean on the unorthodox horror-lite conceit of returned ghosts for narrative thrust. Instead it serves as a gleefully savage satire of both Hollywood’s Cult of Celebrity and the television industry in general: potshots are taken at such diverse across-the-pond staples as Death In Paradise and The Great British Bake Off, and Mason’s wink-and-nod wordplay is as sharp as ever (Besides the alphabetically-named ‘Chrises’, there’s also Francesca Mondeo Coffey-Pott, director of SuperPowered Vigilantes ReUnite!and suave newly-arrived ghost Earl Beige). That said, even with its cheekily humorous tone, a serious edge underlies Karl’s investigation; circumstance has pitched the one-time detective back into his natural policing element, reuniting him with his old partner Gerry Brownlee, and his current partner, whip-smart wisecracking DI Nikki Stanford (soon to be the central figure in a forthcoming Salmonweird spin-off), and the peril confronting them is dangerously real. Without a spirited smoke-and-mirrors paranormal plot to hide behind, Mason conjures his strongest whodunit thus far, one that will have readers guessing—and second guessing—until the startling denouement.

With two more promised books in the mainline Salmonweird saga (teased in post-credit style as ‘The Monk’s Tale’ and ‘Four Salmonweird Marriages and a Murderer’), impatient fans hungry for more mayhem and clotted cream will have to content themselves with tales from the ‘Salmonweird Extended Universe’ (a line of supplemental short stories one can receive by signing up directly at the writer’s site buymeacoffee.com/mgmason), and ponder what mighty mystery will next emerge from Mason’s chaotic authorial mind.

I give Studio Salmonweird a well-deserved 4.5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. Death In Paradise has nothing on this.

4.5 / 5.0