In a peaceful English countryside village all is not quite as it seems. Two cousin spinsters live in cottages either side of the new incomer to their small community, the enigmatic Mr Cadmus. But what starts as a witty, satirical tale littered with dry humour and well-placed clues turns from the absurd to the obscure by the end.
The reader is offered glimpses into the pasts of the three main characters – Theodore Cadmus, Maud Finch and Millicent Swallow – all of which allude to sinister goings on. Death seems to follow the titular character around and the rate of loss of life speeds up considerably as the short book hurtles to its baffling conclusion.
The mystery surrounding Mr Cadmus, who has arrived from the small island of Caldera in the Mediterranean, complete with an abusive parrot, starts as something the reader is eager to solve and there is certainly more to Ms Finch and Ms Swallow than is made explicit, but all too soon the book descends into farce and it happens at such an alarming pace as to leave the reader confused about what has just happened.
It is like reading two entirely different stories – one well-written and enticingly clever as the reader may expect from someone with Peter Ackroyd’s impressive list of literary credits, and one written at random and with little time to take the story to a logical conclusion. It is a real shame as the characters, including the supporting cast of Little Cambornians, are built up well and Ackroyd’s use of wry humour – particularly in the direct speech between the cousins – is perfectly balanced.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the plot which tantalises the reader with interesting backstories which are never fully explained. One such story explores why Mr Cadmus has come to Devon in the first place and evokes a great deal of sympathy but this sympathy quickly wanes and by the time the story concludes it is unclear whether any of it was even true.
Mr Cadmus has a promising beginning but the reader will be hard pushed to make any sense of the illogical, bewildering ending.