“Joan Bultitude’s poodles were noisy, prone to biting and indiscriminate in their toilet habits, which meant that they were disliked by almost everyone who had ever had the misfortune of encountering them.”

If there are two things the English seem to manage better than anyone else (in my humble, and hyperbolic, opinion) it’s comedy and murder mysteries. Fortunately, the universe gifted us Stevyn Colgan, the love-child of Ngaio Marsh and Douglas Adams. The Diabolical Club is his second novel, and it’s as much of a riot as the first. Come with me to South Herewardshire.

As the novel opens, we find several disparate threads to deal with. First up, headmistress Joan Bultitude has just uncovered a skeleton on the grounds of Harpax Grange School, an exclusive girls’ school in the village of Nasely. Her new secretary, Phoebe Kingshaw, is actually working for Sir Giles Luscott-Whorne, an MP with whom she is also having an affair. Giles has sent her there to find any dirt she can on Bultitude, as Harpax Grange is his family’s old home and he wants it back. This is complicated enough, but there’s also been a resurgence lately in sightings of the Shaggy Beast, a wolf-like creature with an engorged penis that is said to stalk Black Dog Woods.

When Phoebe does find something at Harpax Grange that she considers to be “dynamite”, she begs Giles to come and meet her, but before she can pass on what she’s found, she is murdered for her knowledge. The police are called in and with Giles the prime suspect, his standing in society plummets. He recalls a retired detective, Frank Shunter, who solved the crime the last time Nasely had a murder, and hires him to prove his innocence. As the village works itself up into a frenzy, secrets are bound to come spilling out. It seems that village life isn’t as quiet and parochial as one would expect. Some of the locals are also planning on finding the Shaggy Beast once and for all, but will have to contend with the other residents of the woods – namely the doggers and the animal rights activists currently plotting to save Gertie’s Plash, a local pond, from being drained.

Colgan is a master of witticisms, almost rivalling his hero Douglas Adams in the way he slips in perfectly formed jokes at rapid fire speeds. He has a beautiful and effective way with words and metaphor, and isn’t afraid to give something a long set up for a killer punchline. He’s also a master at naming characters. In these pages we meet Oberon Tremblett, Janus Gugge, Gerry Waxleigh, Len Youlden, Raif Clyst and Charlie Barnfather. I’m not sure how many of them are real surnames, but if they’re not they all sound like they could be. The characters are complex and vibrant, and each name suits them perfectly. I don’t know how he does it, but in the same way that Trunchbull is the perfect name for a stern headmistress, so is Bultitude.

The murder mystery element of the story is also fun, although I admit I’d taken a guess early on and was proven to be right, so my journey was one of just waiting to find out how the murderer was caught, rather than who it was. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, however, as there are other things here that I could never have begun to guess would have happened, and it’s a rich tapestry of a world. It also feeds back into the first novel about reclusive crime writer Agnes Crabbe, but never entirely lets her dominate, meaning the story is clearly set in the same universe, and some elements will mean more to the reader if they’ve already read the first in the series, but is just as enjoyable without.

As a fun bonus, too, if you take a look at the page at the front of the book that showcases praise for Colgan’s previous novel, you might come across a quote taken from a very familiar blog, right there beneath quotes from Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig. I found it quite the honour.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!