It’s Mad Martha with you today to present a new, exciting find in the world of cosy mysteries! Well, it’s a find that’s new to ME anyway – the book we will be talking about is actually number three in a series. Forbidden Fruit by Ilsa Evans is the third in Australian series the Nell Forrest Mysteries – Nell being the heroine of the books; the first two being titled Nefarious Doings and Ill-Gotten Gains respectively. Now why did I start with number three? Well I’d had Nefarious Doings on my want list for a while, ever since being enticed by its beautiful cover and when I saw a very similar cover pop up on Netgalley, I immediately pounced. Besides, starting with the first in a series is overrated don’t you think?
Nell Forrest – middle-aged woman, magazine lifestyle columnist and mother of five daughters – has recently bought the house and shop that her family owned back when she was a wee one. On attempting to plant an apple tree in her new (old) backyard, Nell inadvertently uncovers the skeletal remains of a mystery woman. Nell’s involvement in a murder mystery couldn’t have come at a worse time – two of her daughters are due to give birth in the near future, with only one of the two prepared to keep their baby; Nell is facing pressure from her new beau to commit to something more permanent; and the Council has seen fit to name a street after her. As the investigation starts turning up some facts that place the murderer worryingly close to home, Nell must deal with the return of her long-estranged father on top of everything else. Worst of all however, is the discovery that old skele-bones may have been a swinger. It’s questionable whether Nell can retain her sanity and solve this mystery – even with a self-promoting street sign in her corner.
Is Nell Forrest Close
or do suspects keep swinging?
Police are tight-lipped
I found this to be a fun, funny, engaging and complex mystery and I am now very motivated to collect the first two books in Nell’s adventures and begin again at the beginning. I didn’t have too much difficulty starting with book number three in getting to know the characters, although keeping the names, birth orders and current activities of Nell’s five daughters straight was pretty tricky during the first third of the book. There is a reasonable amount of back story that I felt I was missing in terms of Nell’s family and marriage that I suspect had been dealt with in the previous novels but I did manage to pick up enough snippets and connect the dots well enough to be going on with and it didn’t disrupt my enjoyment of the story too much.
So Nell uncovers a skeleton in her backyard and things go pear-shaped from there. The ensuing debacle involves the return of a happy-go-lucky father who abandoned Nell, her sister and mother 30-odd years ago, a set of in-laws linked to one of the expectant mothers who cause a whole bucketload of inter-family dramas and the revelation that the small country town of Majic actually played host to vibrant swinging scene in the late 1960s. You can see that there’s a lot going on in the story, aside from just the murder-mystery part and these extra bits just add to the fun and muddy the waters slightly in terms of discovering who the murderer might have been. The beginning of each chapter begins with a short snippet that I assume is meant to reflect the letters that Nell receives as a columnist for middle-aged ladies and the majority of these I found hilarious. I’m not sure how they related to the story overall but I’m glad they were included because I now have a fantastic new joke to rip out at shelf parties on the subject of mothballs.
The mystery element of the book is complex enough that I feel it would be hard to pick the murderer/s too early on in the proceedings. I did have a hunch reasonably early on that turned out to be correct in a sense, but the ending is so surprisingly action-packed that there is very little chance that any reader could have seen it coming.
Once again, I’m glad to have finally engaged with Nell and her family and I am super-happy to have a new cosy-mystery series to turn to during reading slumps. For those of you looking to relax during the upcoming holiday season (be it freezing or blistering), I can certainly recommend Forbidden Fruit as a great pick for a down-time read.
Until we meet again may all your skeletons remain deeply buried (or at least be uncovered in someone else’s yard),