Murder comes slowly to the exquisitely quaint village of Steeple Tottering, and when it comes—about halfway through this book, after more than 100 pages have gone by—doubt lingers for a while over whether it was in fact murder. The lifeless body of film director Lars Porsen turns up at the base of a cliff on the outskirts of town, and at first hardly anyone bothers to think that he didn’t fall to his death by accident. To be sure, as a member of the Pegasus Pictures crew that recently descended upon the village, Porsen was an outsider. Yet how could anyone, even an outsider, incite an urge to kill in this wholesome expanse of God’s green earth?
There is crime here, and also detection, but light satire and romantic comedy are what take up most of the narrative space in A Banner for Pegasus. The Bonetts (a husband-and-wife team, writing pseudonymously) use the long pre-homicide build-up to render a tidy, vivid picture of Steeple Tottering and its inhabitants, both temporary and permanent. By way of satire, they work a variation on the classic town-and-country theme, with the “town” in this case coming to the “country”: A group of film people from London arrives in the village to make a movie based on a scrap of local lore, and the clash of metropolitan pretension and rural aspiration produces an amusingly potent mixture—two parts vinegar, one part sugar. (The situation and the co-authors’ treatment of it loosely recall the novel Cold Comfort Farm, or at least the film version of that story.) As for romance, it appears in the form of an ultimately failed quest by local reporter Hazel Fairweather to conquer her infatuation with Paul Heritage, the film’s art director. They come across as pleasant and real-seeming people, their allegorical names notwithstanding, and they clearly earn the happiness that finds them.
Despite being peripheral to the novel’s main course of action, the murder plot packs in plenty of ingenuity and even manages to deliver a surprise with its revelation of a culprit. The surprise is all the more surprising because this tale is one of those whodunits that suffer from a shortage of “who’s” who might have wanted to do it. The identity of the fellow responsible for unraveling the mystery will also catch some readers off-guard. Only gradually does it become evident that Professor Mandrake, an amateur watercolorist who putters around the village with his paintbrushes and easel, has the mind of a master-sleuth. In the Eden-like English garden that is Steeple Tottering, he’s just the man to spot a snake.