Reading other people's letters always provides a guilty pleasure.
There's no such joy for two west Yorkshire policemen. They contemplate twenty-seven letters with the task of solving a crime: the shocking attack, just before Christmas, on a post box in the village of Burley Cross.
Exhausted, Sergeant Laurence Everill gives up the task and hands the case over to PC Roger Topping. Topping is submerged into examining the curtain-twitching lives of Jeremy Baverstock, Baxter Thorndyke, the Jonty Weiss-Quinns, Mrs Tirzana Parry, widow, and a splendid array of more weird, wonderful characters, inhabiting a world where everyone's secrets are worn on their sleeves. Pettiness becomes epic, little is writ large.
From complaints about dog shit to horse-trodden turkeys, from Biblical amateur dramatics and a failing novelist's fan mail, a chicken that turns out to be a duck and an Auction of Promises that goes staggeringly, horribly wrong a dozen times and more, Nicola Barker's epistolary novel is one of immense comic range, her characteristic ambition, her shrewd humanity but, above all, about how we laugh at ourselves and fail to see the funny side.
It is unlike anything else Britain's most consistently surprising writer has written: desperately readable, leaving the reader (if not the policemen) shuddering with mirth - Burley Cross Post Box Theft is a Cranford for today, albeit with a decent dose of Tamiflu, some dodgy sex therapy and a whiff of cheap-smelling vodka.