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Classic review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

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As their friendship grows, Major Pettigrew finds himself thrust from his comfortable routine and having to face the fact that Edgecombe St. Mary might not be the staunch remnant of right thinking that he’s loved all these years.

In the much-scrutinized world of the village, your neighbors judge you even by the cookies you eat. Shortbread is decorous; iced varieties are apparently embarrassing. (What they would make of an Oreo, I shudder to think.) When the village ladies (led by Daisy, the vicar’s wife) pay a condolence call on the major, they bring tea (dusty stuff in tea bags) and biscuits. “The tin was printed with views of thatched cottages of England and the biscuits were appropriately tumescent; stuffed with fudge, dribbled with pastel icing, or wrapped in assorted foils. He suspected that Alma had picked it out.

“Unlike her husband, Alec, who was proud of his history as an East End boy, Alma tried hard to forget her origins in London; but she sometimes betrayed herself with a taste for showy luxuries and the sweet tooth of someone who grew up without quite enough to eat. The other ladies, he suspected, were hiding their mortification.”

When all this gentility and good breeding turns its attention to race relations, the result is ripe for satire.

Complicating matters further are Bertie’s widow, currently in possession of a Churchill rifle (one of a matched pair) that was always supposed to come to the major; Pettigrew’s grasping son, Roger; and an angry single mother named Amina and her son, George. Simonson is as sure-handed at social satire as she is at romance, and the combination makes for an entirely satisfying read.

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