Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Cover

Helen Simonsen

Major Ernest Pettigrew (Ret'd) is not interested in the frivolity of the modern world. Since his wife Nancy's death, he has tried to avoid the constant bother of nosy village women, his grasping, ambitious son, and the ever spreading suburbanization of the English countryside, preferring to lead a quiet life upholding the values that people have lived by for generations -respectability, duty, and a properly brewed cup of tea (very much not served in a polystyrene cup with teabag left in). But when his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed village shopkeeper of Pakistani descent, the Major is drawn out of his regimented world and forced to confront the realities of life in the twenty-first century. Drawn together by a shared love of Literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship on the cusp of blossoming into something more. But although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs. Ali was born in Cambridge, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as a permanent foreigner. The Major has always taken special pride in the village, but how will the chaotic recent events affect his relationship with the place he calls home? Written with sharp perception and a delightfully dry sense of humour, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a heart warming love story with a cast of unforgettable characters that questions how much one should sacrifice personal happiness for the obligations of family and tradition


What a charming, quirky story this is. Funny, too, in the most unexpected places.

Major Pettigrew is a retired army officer, whiling away a fairly pointless existence in a respectable village on the south coast. His days are lonely since his wife died; at 68, it doesn’t even cross his mind that he might find love again. So he plays golf with his men friends, tries to hold his temper with his ghastly, overbearing, city-slicker son Roger, and attempts to keep up appearances and personal standards. The Major has a dread of slipping into the gentle dishevelment and faint but unmistakeably stale odour of old age.

Everything changes with the sudden death of his brother, Bertie. Major Pettigrew is comforted by Mrs Ali, who runs the village shop. She too is alone after the death of her husband and slowly the two of them discover they have much else in common – a love of books; bossy, interfering relatives, and, as the unlikely pair spend increasing time together, gossiping villagers.

The Major’s attempts to win Mrs Ali’s heart are the very epitome of courtly love. He may be shy, he may be old-fashioned, but he is determined. He is a soldier, too, and as Mrs Ali’s family try to keep the couple apart, he must soon become a knight and ride to her rescue.

This is a book best read by the fire with a pot of tea and buttered scones to hand; a whimsical, quintessentially English romance and comedy of manners combined. Helen Simonson’s debut novel is a quiet triumph.


I loved the parallels between Mrs Ali’s interfering family and Major Pettigrew own bossy relatives. There are times in the book when you want to send the lot of them packing. Mrs Ali’s nephew, fresh back from a little light indoctrination in the madrasses of Pakistan, is brimming with the tight-lipped disapproval of the newly devout. ‘My aunt will not engage in public dancing,’ he primly informs the village ladies when they invite his aunt to a do at the golf club. Cheeringly, she ignores him and goes anyway.

The Major’s son is a nightmare too – priggish, judgemental, and grasping. But his attempts to manipulate his father into handing over large sums of money ‘so I can buy a cottage nearby and live closer to you, dad’ come to nothing. Pettigrew Snr. is no pushover. His dry put-downs to his son are often hilarious.

The book’s sub-plot revolves around a pair of immensely valuable antique shotguns left to the Major and brother Bertie by their father. It was always understood that the first brother to die would will the other his gun, so the pair could be re-united and remain in the Pettigrew name. But Bertie betrays this trust: there’s nothing about the gun in his will and his widow is determined the pair should be sold. So the Major finds himself fighting a war on two fronts – to save the family heirlooms, and win the lady’s heart.

Love reaching out across the cultural barriers always makes for a good tale. In Helen Simonson’s hands, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a story glowing with hope, optimism, and kindness. A lovely read.

Reviews & Comments

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  • I bought this book because it sounded such a charming and original story idea, with a wonderfully positive message behind it - an old-school ex-military stickler develops a relationship with a Muslim shopkeeper, overcoming the twitching-net-curtains mentality and bigoted disapproval in the village where they live. While it certainly wasn't a bad read, the problem for me was that the original premise was stretched too thinly and couldn't sustain my interest over a whole novel. There needed to be more to it than one nice central idea and for me, there just wasn't. The middle section was slow and felt like 'stuffing' designed to fill the pages before we could move on to the denouement. The other characters didn't help - they are more like caricatures, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a novel, but I felt here that the author lacked the skill to distill the comic potential from these stereotypes. Some readers have remarked on the humour, but to my tastes, what little there was was too lame and predictable to lift the book - I like my witticisms a little sharper! And at the risk of being a stickler like the Major, it did grate on my nerves that a few Amercanisms had crept in, eg, 'intersection' for 'crossroads and 'cilantro' for 'coriander' which is really shamefully slack of the editors. Small details you might think, but that's what an editor gets paid for and mistakes like that cannot fail to detract from a novel that relies heavily on a backdrop of quintessential Englishness! Each time I read such a blooper, I couldn't help disengaging from the scene, it didn't seem believable after that, plus I felt mildly insulted that the publishers couldn't be bothered to edit the book properly, yet still expected people to pay good money for it.

    On the plus side, it IS quite a sweet and original little love story with one or two touching moments. Just not quite as good or as well-rounded as it sounded on the cover. Sorry to have to disagree with Richard and Judy on this occasion, I still love the Book Club and will continue to enthusiastically work my way through their other recommendations!

    Sue Beeston

  • agree totally, was a good book for about 3/4 then tails off the ending was lacking as too preictable etc , shame as it had so much promise with the premise of the book & the beginng, & middle.


  • I've loved reading Major Pettygrews Last Stand. Thoughtit was probably one of the funniest books I've read in Years. Having just read The Postmistress and Hothouse Flower I was really hoping for some light relief and this didn't disappoint, it was certainly true of the country life that I've experienced. Its something of a beautiful journey for the major and Mrs. Ali. My favourite line has to be where the major asks " Is that Elgar playing." And Mrs Ali replies" No actually I think its from The King and I". It would be impossible to have a story like this without the inevitable racial tension that ensues, but the author handles it well I think without the necessity to score political points. Overall a charming book which I guess reminds me of the niceities that used to exist in this green and pleasant land. Highly recommended. Mike.

    Mike Garrick

  • Totally disagree with the first review - where's your sense of humour! It's a great love story, it's richly crafted and is brimming over with with descriptions that tickle the funny bone. I loved the character of the Major, he may be crusty and a little old-fashioned, but his kind heart trumps his straightlaced nature and he finds love in the most surprising of places. All the characters have a story to tell and are tale is weaved together beautifully - it was sad when the book came to an end. More Major please!


  • For me personally, this was an OK-but-not-great read. Sorry to report that I'm another one who didn't find the book particularly amusing. It's not that there isn't any humour in it… I guess it just depends on what style/level of humour floats one’s boat :-) . I liked the Major/Mrs Ali romance, they were a tender and touching double act, both characters nicely fleshed out. Also liked the exaggerated and deliberately stereotypical Englishness of the settings. I found the prose style pleasant if a trifle pedestrian in places (eg, superfluous details of clothes, interiors, etc, when the settings/characters had already been very clearly defined)…. towards the end there is a particular scene, which I won't spoil for others, suffice to say it is a pivotal section that is suddenly written in a completely different and more OTT dramatic style than the rest of the book. I felt it jarred and I lost a bit of faith with the book at that point, although that didn’t stop me reading on to the conclusion. Other internet reviews and blogs have commented on the shoddy editing - inappropriate use of American phrases and careless spelling mistakes ("Here, here!", two-story building, etc). Every book should be allowed one or two editing gaffes, but there were enough here to start getting on my nerves a bit. However, I can appreciate that lots of readers will forgive it those flaws (or not even notice them) because they are simply enjoying the charming storyline too much. Thank you Richard and Judy for an interesting and varied list of books this time round - I probably won't read them all, but I'm already starting on the next in line!

    Heather Baillie

  • After reading The Postmistress I have selected this book for a light and gentle read. So far I am loving it. Sure it will be a happy ending but isn't that what we read these sort of books ... a glimmer of hope!! Full review when completed!


  • This is a fab book. Its gentle, funny, romantic & harmless. So much so I have managed to get my husband to put it on his to read list. My favourite one liner (as there are so many) is: "I'll leave him a note suggesting he finds the turkeys other wing, ....... it will be like dinner and party games all in one"


  • I am loving it. I have just finished Postmistress and begun Major Pettigrew. And what a difference. The characters are alive on the page. I can imagine the village, the house, his self-centred son, Mrs Ali and her nephew. The storytelling is wonderful I am only on Chapter 6 and already I feel I know Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali and the other characters that have only appeared once, he brings them to life on the page.I look forward to my next instalment.


  • Loved this book. Funny ( some of the Major's observations are hilarious) and at the same time it is also a tender love story and demonstrates how it does not matter about age when one falls in love. Beautifully written and observed. I was sorry to finish it. Look forward to another book from Helen Siminson.

    Ann Allan

  • I really enjoyed this book. Light, easy reading & characters that come to life. I would recommend it highly.


  • I have just finished reading Major Petigrew’s Last Stand. I thought the book was humorous in places although many of the stereotypes were over-played. It is different from usual romance stories and I presume this was why it was published. I’m afraid though, I must agree with other reviewers who point out the lack of good editing. The allusions to American life were jarring and inaccurate for a book supposedly set in an English country village. I have never come across such an object as a red flannel duvet, although it may exist in the USA, and, although I am well into my fifties, I cannot remember ever seeing a bar of carbolic soap, certainly it was not evident in the hospital where I spent most of last year. So far as the characterisation of the major is concerned, I am married to a man in his sixties who has just single-handedly renovated an entire house. Compare this to a man of a supposedly similar age to the who walks about carrying a cane and tips his hat to ladies – a man of eighty might perhaps still do this, but sixty? This is asking us to suspend disbelief too far.


  • This book was a real pleasure to read for me. Whilst the characters and scenes were very stereotyped, the main characters remained believable. I particicularly enjoyed the relationship between the Major and his son and sister in law. Very well observed. The ending does feel a bit rushed and overly dramatic, but this is my favourite of the the book club books I've read in this batch.


  • I bought this book as a light read while recovering from major surgery. I loved it - easy light reading and very enjoyable. Only criticism is shared with the first review - It did flag a little for me in the middle - but I would thoroughly recommend it


  • I think this would translate on to the small screen brilliantly. Could I suggest Nigel Havers as Major Pettigrew right from the off? The characters of the Major and Mrs Ali are both brilliantly written, but I thought that all the other more minor characters are all excellent and you have a picture of them in your head every time they appear. It seems to me that the novel is about how we can all be too tied up in what ever our 'culture' expects us to be even when our own well being is at stake. Liked the ending, I would so love to be at that wedding!!

    Debbie Taylor

  • the major really came to life in my head , i can still see him like a character in the archers? ha lovely read , funny sad and real gail

    gail x

  • this is not a book i would of chosen myself but my daughter bought it for my birthday and i am so glad she did it is a lovely story and i really enjoyed it i also think it would make a great series on the small screen brilliant


  • I found this book entirely far-fetched. I was cringing throughout at the ridiculous depiction of an inter-racial relationship, it seemed completely backwards considering we are in 2011; even in the most 'traditional' of English towns I doubt there would have been this much of an uproar. Not an original tale as so many have written, a story that could have broken boundaries fifty years ago had it not been so patronising, but certainly not today. Don't think the author can have met a sixty year old Englishman in her life! This book is inconsistent, old fashioned and badly written. Sorry guys, not a fan. (but read Room!)


  • I really enjoyed this book, it was easy to read, with a good story line and the characters were real.

    Karen Dalton

  • Although a little slow this is the perfect read for a lazy weekend.


  • What a delightful book! I thoroughly enjoyed this gentle, amiable yet beautifully observed tale of manners and courtship. The characters were written with panache and one really cared for the Major and Mrs Ali. Not the sort of book i normally read but a delighful dalliance from the norm for me. thoroughly recommend for anyone looking for a fireside read with a cup of tea.


  • It took a while for this to "get goign" but I have to say that I loved it and would look for other novels by this author!


  • I don't know what all the fuss is about. This is a gentle lovely book. You don't always have to have deep meaning, unbelievable grammar (though I really have never believed someone buys a book based on its grammar!!) or hidden depth. Sometimes is just pleasant to pick a book that is an easy and enjoyable read and this book is certainly that. We don't all want to be book critics with depth! I bet the people who didn't like this loved the "lemon cake" book!

    Su Trinder

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