Normal for Norfolk
The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles, Book #1
By Mitzi Szereto and Teddy Tedaloo
Author Website: mitziszereto.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Lee
Thelonious T. Bear, ursine photojournalist, leaves behind the big city life of London to take an assignment in the Norfolk countryside, where he hopes to find the real England. Instead he stumbles upon gastro-pubs, crazed Audi drivers and murder. As the hapless Thelonious keeps ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time, he attracts the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Horatio Sidebottom of Norfolk Constabulary CID, who’s determined to tie Thelonious to the crimes. Add in a pair of hoods from London’s East End, celebrity TV Chef Paolo Louis Black, and plenty of oddball local characters and it all adds up to a madcap journey through England’s most quirky county, where everything is normal for Norfolk! (Goodreads)
The storyline of Normal for Norfolk would be at home in any Guy Ritchie film or similar English crime saga, apart from one key feature: the lead protagonist is a bear. That’s right, Thelonious T. Bear is a teddy bear as well as a photojournalist. He appreciates a good English pint as much as the next man, and he likes nice clothes—when he can find ones that fit. He faces challenges unique to his species on a regular basis, such as being too short to reach door handles or being stared at in public. Yet despite being stared at, Thelonious is accepted as being, well, relatively normal; in the world created by Mitzi Szereto (and the teddy bear sidekick credited as her coauthor, Teddy Tedaloo), bears apparently are capable of speaking, holding down jobs, and generally interacting with humans in English society as though they to are humans.
This weird world that Szereto has created goes without questioning in Normal for Norfolk, perhaps because it so perfectly suits the idiom that the book takes its title from. It also helps that Szereto is a great writer with a unique voice capable of transitioning smoothly from Thelonious’s rural amblings in Norfolk to the gritty London underworld that her two murderous henchmen, the Clark brothers, call home. Her storytelling voice is so detailed and convincing that one is willing to believe whatever she wants one to believe. Once the reader accepts that Thelonious is a teddy bear, the entire book seems remarkably realistic, especially since the supporting human characters ironically come off as far more quirky than Thelonious himself. These include bed and breakfast proprietor Mrs. Baxter, bored with her provincial married life and willing to make flirtatious advances at anything male that moves (including Thelonious), and Norfolk’s Chief Inspector Horatio Sidebottom who, with a name worthy of Lord of the Rings, cannot seem to get any other suspects in his line of sight but Thelonious.
All of this unwanted attention makes it difficult for the quiet and unassuming bear to get about his actual business in Norfolk, of completing a photography series detailing what makes England’s quirkiest county so lovable. However, it’s hard to think of Norfolk as lovable when publicans are showing up dead left and right. Szereto fills the various English pubs of Norfolk with even more delightful characters, all of whom come to life right before the reader’s eyes. She describes the locations in Norfolk equally illustratively, creating a picturesque world that renders the crimes taken place within it all the more horrifying.
Will Thelonious manage to finish his job without getting wrongfully charged with murder? Will the true criminals ever get caught, or will Sidebottom be too focused on Thelonious to see what’s before his very eyes? It’s worth picking up Normal for Norfolk to find out, especially if you are at all a fan of the mystery genre or English culture. It’s Masterpiece Mystery with an ursine twist. Hopefully any further installments of the Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles will be equally engaging.