Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99
I am quite sure I have previously expounded on my early-onset curmudgeoness, which began some time around the onset of puberty. Some may have called it simply “being a teenager”, and certainly many similar behaviours were involved. However, it also involved a whole lot of tutting at rude people, finding fellow teenagers to be irritating, and enjoying Brussels sprouts. In other words I have always been old.
Not that Hester and Harriet are old. Do not, under any circumstances, let them overhear you saying that. They are at most late middle-aged, okay. Got that?
Just two widowed sisters living life footloose and fancy free. Free to get up whenever they like, do as little or as much as they like in a day and not have to answer to anyone.
Of course there are social obligations to be avoided like their well meaning but cripplingly dull cousin George’s invitations to Christmas lunch, which would condemn them to another meal of his wife Isabelle’s horrific cooking and their son Ben’s teenage sullenness. Hester’s flair in the culinary department makes this a particularly hard blow to the taste buds.
This Christmas, salvation comes at the very last moment when, on the way to George and Isabelle’s, they come across a young mother and her baby sheltering in a bus stop. What else could they do but take Daria and little Milo in, keep them warm and try to help. It’s the only conscionable thing to do. What a shame they’d have to call George and say they’d miss the party (said no introvert ever).
What starts off as an act of kindness throws Hester and Harriet’s stable and quiet life into utter chaos. Throw into the mix Ben turning up on their doorstep to escape the parentals; a detective called Dick (no, really); village gossip; Finbar (a tramp by choice); the mystery of how Daria got from Belarus to the bus stop, and suddenly the sisters’ lives include capers. Capers! It’s not to be borne. Not when all one wants is to sit down at the end of the day with a cup of tea and some homemade biscuits.
Hilary Spiers has created what may well be my favourite characters of the year and perhaps beyond. And that’s not merely due to our shared views on exclamation marks. Hester and Harriet is masterfully comedic and will go down as containing the funniest game of bridge I have ever encountered, and most likely will ever encounter.
Hester and Harriet are a sibling pair to be reckoned with. Their kindheartedness is tempered by British sensibility and an aversion to this age of touchy-feely oversharing. Keep out of Hester’s kitchen and beware of Harriet’s driving—these ladies do not suffer fools gladly.
What I want now, and I hope someone is paying attention here, is to see a TV series—Hester and Harriet: Accidental Detectives. Like Miss Marple but with two of them. I can’t wait.