Murder Fantastical by Patricia Moyes

A delightfully eccentric family’s refusal to sell their estate ends in murder.

What starts out as a deceptively simple murder in a tiny village proves to be a fantastically clever plot. The beloved Manciple family is eccentric to an almost unbelievable degree – even as you fall for them, you can’t help but wonder if they know far more than they let on?

All the aunts and uncles have returned to the ancestral home to vet a newcomer, the fiancé of beloved daughter Maud. But things go rather awry when the borgeouis neighbor (and successful bookie) who wouldn’t take no for answer is shot in the driveway.

Is it murder? Chief Inspector Tibbet is called in because the local policeman Sir John is too obviously a friend of the family. The head of the household, Major Manciple (who is a far cry from the stereotypical bluff major), helpfully compiles a list of suspects, motives and means for Tibbet.

But things are far from simple. Even though the plot of the victim to buy the house is fairly obvious, the story has far more depth than I expected. Vague characters like the ex-Bishop of Bugolaland and the ninety year old Aunt Dora are suspicious in their vagueness, while the Major’s darling wife Violet seems incapable of murder.

And the main characters provide so much fodder to unravel! An emotional gun-toting but pacifist ex-Major. A beautiful, vunerable and oddly remote daughter. A jealous, handsome and intelligent fiancee. A loud-mouthed boorish son who inherits his father’s business.

When a second death occurs, Tibbet is forced to work very hard and the plot plunges through so many twists that it is difficult to keep straight. When the denouement comes, in true Agatha Christie style everything clicks into place. You realize the meaning of many little oddities you had noticed without noticing. You curse yourself for a dunderhead and stand amazed at the author’s brilliant mind…

The only weakness in this highly enjoyable book is Tibbet’s wife. She’s not a bad character but she lacks Tibbert’s charm and she seems to play a very thin role. She comes in more at the end but seems to be a narrator for the plot while Tibbet’s away.

But don’t let this discourage you. This is a classic British mystery that pays homage to the greats, yet with a rare hint of something different. Even while you feel good has triumphed, it is not without a high cost, and the characters defy the typical endings you imagine for them.

One character seems to sum it up quite well – “You needn’t imagine I’m going to fit into your cozy little happy ending.”

Black Plumes by Margery Allingham

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An exquisitely constructed post-war mystery that keeps you guessing.

Another classic and delightful Allingham book. Instead of her usual detective it is narrated by the very charming young Frances. She’s desperately trying to tell her regal grandmother that the family gallery is going off the rails fast. The chapter culminates with a dramatic scene featuring a slashed painting and a seemingly simple argument that will descend into murder.

Why is Frances’ brother-in-law so furious when she turns down his friend, an unctuous and slimy little man? Why is her half-sister such a miserable, terrified wreck? When a murder occurs, they all know someone in the house is a killer. Despite the police presence no one feels safe, perhaps because the police are there as much to arrest as to protect.

There are a veritable feast of suspects and Frances is hard pressed to keep her cool. Could it be her own hysterical half-sister, the victim’s unhappy wife? Or perhaps Frances’ new fiancé, the artist whose painting was slashed and who wants to marry immediately so they can’t testify against each other? Even her beloved and regal grandmother, whose mind slides in and out of focus, could be using her age as a clever cover.

The book is seen through Frances’ uncertain and troubled eyes – Allingham uses this device brilliantly. We follow along with Frances, tortured by the conflict between her conscience and her sense of loyalty. The Scottish detective Birdie keeps his own counsel, so along with Frances we wait and listen to what clues drop, hoping to uncover the truth and protect the ones we love…

The Vanishing of Dr. Winter by L.B. Hathaway

vanishA feisty sleuth digs into a wartime disappearance for a woman she hated.

This is my 4th Posie Parker (a feisty private detective in the 1920’s). L.B. Hathaway has very readable books that are easy to get through in a few hours.

Posie is a consistently developed character. The premise is fantastic – this one about a doctor presumed dead in the war who is later spotted in Oxford. Having the person who hires Posie turn out to be someone she hated and who also hated her was an excellent twist.

I enjoyed the puzzle and the clues, although I was very surprised to hear for the first time that Posie has a brother who was never mentioned in the previous 3 books. The plot line of the missing doctor happened to help her connect with her dead brother.

The romantic angle is promising, I don’t know how it continues to grow despite the fact that we almost never see Posie and Alaric together. In the brief glimpses he maintains his allure – gorgeous, good-hearted and always somewhere else.

I was surprised by the addition of a real ghost but it fit into the motif of the book (ghosts of the war).

I greatly admire L.B. Hathaway and look forward to the next book!

The previous books are Murder Offstage, The Tomb of the Honeybee and Murder at Maypole Manor.

Murder at Maypole Manor by L.B. Hathaway

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A cozy crime mingles with espionage in a classic isolated mansion.

I’ve been following Posie Parker (a feisty private detective in the 1920’s) along her adventures with pleasure, in Murder Offstage and The Tomb of the Honey Bee.

Posie continues to be a consistent, well-vocalized character who pines for her adventurous lover. But luckily for us that doesn’t stop her also looking for bad guys and generally being feisty.

This was one of my favourite settings, the classic mansion in a snow storm with exotic characters and at least one person who is lying in a way that cannot be verified while they’re cut off from everything. The characters were distinct enough to follow – film stars, artists, peers, agents and even a clairvoyant.

I enjoyed the puzzle and the various clues – there are a lot of elements for you to solve and consider in this book!

The storyline with Posie’s insane, obsessive and immensely rich criminal stalker was the least intriguing piece for me. As an arch-nemesis he provides a foil for Posie, but I’m not a huge fan of the one that wants to marry her and finds her so irresistible that he won’t let go.

This continues to be a very enjoyable series!

The Tomb of the Honey Bee by L.B. Hathaway

honeybeeA feisty 1920s sleuth solving a crime through glamourous London, Sicily and Egypt.

Posie is a feisty private detective in 1920’s London. She plunges dangerously into situations without always thinking it through and they often go awry, but she makes it up in pluck.

In book #2, Posie is in the throws of heartache and finds herself helping a ravishing and broke peer, Violet, whose explorer brother has gone missing. And she’s being paid in extraordinarily expensive honey. Potential suspects include the other brother, a drinking wastrel of money, his wealthy and jealous wife, a highly suspicious valet and a unrequited-love-crazy mystery writer.

A great setup and the book’s highlight is Posie’s international jetsetting to interesting places. The killer here is a different kind of crazy ruthless and manages to do a fair amount of destruction for a comparative amateur.

An enjoyable series and I’m distinctly interested in the next books!