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Literature / Felse Investigates

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A detective novel series by Ellis Peters that ran for 13 novels, 1951-1978. The series has a contemporary setting, with policeman George Felse and his son Dominic sharing the limelight; which one gets how much of the limelight varies from novel to novel. Over the course of the series, George rises from a village bobby to the head of the county CID and Dominic grows from a small boy to a self-assured young man.

The series has no official overall title; the title used here comes from the novels, in some editions, being subtitled "Sergeant Felse Investigates", "Detective Inspector Felse Investigates", "Detective Chief Inspector Felse Investigates", "Superintendent George Felse Investigates", or "Dominic Felse Investigates", as appropriate.

  1. Fallen into the Pit (1951, "Sergeant Felse Investigates")
  2. Death and The Joyful Woman (1961, "Sergeant Felse Investigates")
  3. Flight of a Witch (1964, "George Felse Investigates")
  4. A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs (1965, "Detective Inspector Felse Investigates")
  5. The Piper on the Mountain (1966, "Dominic Felse Investigates")
  6. Black Is the Colour of my True-Love's Heart (1967, "Detective Inspector Felse Investigates")
  7. The Grass Widow's Tale (1968, "Sergeant Felse Investigates"note )
  8. The House of Green Turf (1969, "Inspector Felse Investigates")
  9. Mourning Raga (1969, "Dominic Felse Investigates")
  10. The Knocker on Death's Door (1970, "Detective Chief Inspector Felse Investigates")
  11. Death to the Landlords! (1972, "Dominic Felse Investigates")
  12. City of Gold and Shadows (1973, "Detective Chief Inspector Felse Investigates")
  13. Rainbow's End (1978, "Superintendent George Felse Investigates")

Death and The Joyful Woman won an Edgar Award and was adapted into an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, with Frank Overton as George Felse.

This series provides examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Swami Premanathanand will not offer violence to any person, even to the extent of attempting to forcibly disarm a person who is about to commit a murder. (This doesn't mean he won't attempt to prevent the murder, just that he'll be more lateral about how he does it.)
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: In Mourning Raga, Tossa's actress mother is starring in a musical film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Dominic Felse
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: At the climax of The Piper on the Mountain, Dominic is forced to watch helplessly as the murderer maneuvres into position to kill the title character. A shot rings out...
  • Bluffing the Murderer:
    • In Fallen Into the Pit, Dominic, having figured out who the murderer is, but without any proof, tries to provoke the murderer into doing something incriminating by telling him he's found something that might be evidence.
    • Dominic does it again, with suitable variations, in Death and The Joyful Woman.
  • Book Ends: Death and The Joyful Woman both begins and ends with something significant happening to Dominic on his way home from his weekly piano lessons.
  • Busman's Holiday: In A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs, the Felse family's seaside holiday puts George on the spot when a murder is discovered.
  • Call-Back: In Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart, there's a clue whose significance Dominic recognises because of something he learned during the holiday depicted in The Piper on the Mountain.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • If, as in The Piper on the Mountain, somebody points out a rock-covered mountainside and mentions how easy it would be for an incautious climber to bring the whole lot down on top of himself, you can be sure there's a landslide in the near future.
    • The stately home in which Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart is set had a previous owner who collected exotic weapons as a way of seeming more mysterious and glamourous than he really was. During a tour of the house early in the book, particular attention is drawn to the Sword Cane.
  • Comic-Book Time: The first book is explicitly set in 1949. After that, they're not specific, but the background setting details keep pace with passing time, while the recurring characters age a year or two from book to book, even when the gap between books is larger. This is particularly noticeable with the second book, which was published a decade after the first, and includes a plot point that sets it no earlier than 1957, but George and Dominic have aged only two years.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In The Grass Widow's Tale, George stops in at a garage/petrol station he visited as part of the investigation in Flight of a Witch, and reflects on how things have changed in the intervening years.
    • Rainbow's End is set in the same neighbourhood as The Knocker on Death's Door, with some returning characters in supporting roles.
  • Corporal Punishment: Fallen Into the Pit is set in a time when corporal punishment was still a common occurrence in English schools. Part of the establishment of Chad Wedderburn's character is that he's only resorted to using it once during his time as a teacher, the circumstances of which are described in detail.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Bunty Felse, George's wife, gets hers in The Grass Widow's Tale, in which she stumbles across a dead body while George is out of town on an investigation.
  • Deadly Prank: In Rainbow's End, a hoax meant only to humiliate the unpopular Arthur Rainbow has a seed of truth that kicks off a chain of events that includes Rainbow getting murdered.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • In Flight of a Witch, the murderer, when caught, turns his weapon on himself.
    • In The Knocker on Death's Door, the murderer, when caught, turns his weapon on himself.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs, Simon has a eureka moment concerning the disappearance of Jan Treverra after George repeats a comment of Dominic's. Played with a bit in that Simon was actually present when Dominic said it the first time, but didn't realise its significance because he didn't have enough of the other pieces of the puzzle then.
  • Extremely Cold Case: In A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs, George is invited to attend the opening of a historic tomb in the town where the family is holidaying. It's discovered that the tomb's occupant was apparently buried alive, and figuring out the truth about her death becomes the B-plot to the more recent violent death that's the main mystery.
  • Fictional Province: The setting of many of the novels is Midshire, a fictional county in the West Midlands that includes the Felses' home town of Comerford.
  • First Love: Dominic Felse, aged 14, falls hard for Kitty Norris in Death and The Joyful Woman; they don't end up together, but they part amicably having both gained from their interactions.
  • Friend on the Force: George Felse is Dominic's.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Invoked by Philippa in A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs; she says of librarian Tamsin that "when she takes off her glasses she isn't bad-looking". She's kidding: Tamsin is undeniably good-looking, and doesn't wear glasses.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: George Felse likes to smoke a pipe when winding down after a hard day's work.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In Death and The Joyful Woman, Alfred Armiger is done to death with the (full, unopened) magnum of champagne with which he was about to celebrate his latest triumph.
  • Happily Married: George and Bunty Felse.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?:
    • Invoked by Dominic when he's Bluffing the Murderer by claiming to have found new evidence; he's careful to mention that he hasn't told anyone else yet.
    • Used by the murderer in The Piper on the Mountain.
    • In Rainbow's End, Bossie Jarvis sneaks back to a site connected to the murder in search of a useful clue, and runs into a friendly acquaintance there. When the acquaintance asks if his parents will be worried about where he is, he casually explains that he's arranged for them to think he's staying at a friend's house — and then realises from the other's reaction that (a) he's alone with the murderer and (b) he's just told the murderer nobody will be wondering where he is until tomorrow...
  • I Have No Son!: Alfred Armiger pulls this on his son Leslie in Death and The Joyful Woman, after Leslie decides he'd rather be an artist than continue the family business, and refuses to go along with an arranged marriage. Armiger Sr being the Asshole Victim, this is not the version of the trope where they reconcile in the end.
  • Impeded Messenger: In Death and The Joyful Woman, Dominic sets out after the murderer, leaving a message for his father with the intention that it will bring George after him in time to rescue him if he gets in trouble, but not soon enough to forbid him going in the first place. An unexpected circumstance delays the delivery of the message, and Dominic very nearly gets himself killed.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Macsen-Martel family in The Knocker on Death's Door.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Played with in Death and The Joyful Woman. Kitty confides in Dominic that she intends to confess to the murder; seeking to dissuade her, he tells her exactly why she couldn't have done it, because her story fits the vague description of the murder the police have made public, but not the reserved details he knows of through George. Too late, he realises he'd have done better to keep quiet: if she'd tried to confess, the police would have known she was innocent by the same reasoning, but now she actually knows details the police haven't made public, she's in danger of making the police think she's guilty. Which is exactly what happens.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Chad Wedderburn in Fallen Into the Pit. It's a romantic subplot in an Ellis Peters novel, so it works out all right in the end.
  • Ironic Nickname: "Pussy" Hart in Fallen Into the Pit. Her real name is Catherine, abbreviated to "Cat", and thence to "Pussy". It's stated that the nickname has stuck specifically because it doesn't suit her; if she's a cat, it's not any kind that people would call "pussy".
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: A couple of major characters from The Knocker at Death's Door have a cameo in Rainbow's End, which gives away the outcome of the former novel's romantic subplot and diminishes the pool of suspects for its murder mystery.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • Mistaken for Romance: In Black is the Colour of my True Love's Heart, several people notice the covert signs of affection between Lucien Galt and a married woman and draw the wrong conclusion. She's his mother, who gave him up for adoption when he was an infant and she was an unwed teen; they've only recently been reunited, and she doesn't want to be public about it until she's had a chance to explain to her husband.
  • No Full Name Given: The Rossignol twins in Black is the Colour of my True Love's Heart are only referred to as such; their individual given names are not revealed.
  • Oblivious to Love: In Death and The Joyful Woman, Leslie Armiger doesn't realise his Unlucky Childhood Friend Kitty Norris has more-than-friendly feelings toward him, and she's too wrapped up in her own trouble to realise she's become Dominic Felse's First Love. Kitty and Dominic each end up moving on and finding happiness with other people.
  • One of the Boys: Dominic's best friend, Pussy Hart, in Fallen Into the Pit.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted in The Knocker on Death's Door. One character is shot through the shoulder in the final showdown with the murderer. He is rushed to hospital, and one of the surgeons spends most of the night getting the bullet "out of the wreckage of his left shoulder". He's expected to be in hospital (and later, physical therapy) for months afterward, but to make at least an 80 percent recovery eventually.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Bunty Felse, whose full first name isn't revealed until about halfway through the series, and even thereafter mentioned only occasionally.
    • Several of Dominic's schoolmates in Fallen Into the Pit, including "Rabbit" Warren, whose real first name is not revealed, and "Pussy" Hart, whose real name is mentioned exactly once by the narrator and never used by any of the characters.
    • James Boswell Jarvis, known to all as "Bossie", in Rainbow's End.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: In The Knocker on Death's Door, a woman who is dating the younger son of an Impoverished Patrician family is invited to afternoon tea by his elder brother, who attempts to warn her off. She's affronted, and amused, that people still behave like that. It turns out that he was actually trying to get her clear of the family because he'd found out his younger brother was the murderer.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Chad Wedderburn in Fallen Into the Pit is the withdrawn loner type. Whether he's also the type that's retained an aptitude for killing is a question that gets a lot of attention after the first body shows up.
  • Single-Minded Twins: The Rossignol twins in Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart are never seen apart and act like two halves of a single person. Justified that their single-mindedness is not inherent, but an affectation they've adopted for effect (they're a musical double-act), and there's a scene where they drop it when nobody's looking (though even then the narrator doesn't name them individually).
  • Sword Cane: One plays a role in Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart.
  • Taking the Heat: In Black is the Colour of my True Love's Heart.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Tamsin in A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs, while exploring a tunnel:
      "It's so straightforward here," said Tamsin, stepping out merrily in the lead, "you hardly need a light." And promptly on the word she tripped over a stone that tilted treacherously out of the sandy floor, and went down with a squeak of protest on hands and knees.
    • At the beginning of The Knocker on Death's Door, George has a conversation with a local plod from a remote corner of the county, in which they remark that there's never any crime to interest George in that neck of the woods. Heavily lampshaded by the narrator.
    • In City of Gold and Shadows, a police team set out to search the spots on the river where things tend to wash up, in case a missing boy has fallen in the river. They've searched nearly all the places on their list when the junior member of the team incautiously remarks that it looks like the boy didn't go in the river after all — and of course his body is in the next place they look. This gets him an angry You Just Had to Say It from his superior, as well as a lampshading from the narrator.
  • Villainous Breakdown: In Death and The Joyful Woman, once it's clear the game is up, the murderer's calm composure splits wide open and a wild Motive Rant ensues.
  • Vomiting Cop: One of the constables at the uncovering of the second corpse in The Knocker on Death's Door.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole:
    • Helmut Schauffler in Fallen Into the Pit. One of the police at the crime scene, asked to suggest someone who might want him dead, names seven without needing to think hard, and George notes that he could have done the same without any overlap of names.
    • Arthur Rainbow, in Rainbow's End, is a classic example of the type, managing to get on the wrong side of just about everyone before meeting his end.
  • Working the Same Case: The murder Bunty stumbles on in The Grass Widow's Tale turns out to be linked to the investigation George is working on.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: The away-with-the-fairies version is discussed in Flight of a Witch, which revolves around a hill with a legend of that kind associated with it, and modern young woman who goes up the hill one evening and comes down again four days later professing to believe it's still the same night.