Mondays (and in this case, Thursdays) are for Murder: Date with Death…

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Well, last time I was complaining that Monday had come around too fast.  This time, it’s come so quickly that it’s got to Thursday before I can put up Monday’s post.  Sorry about the delay this week, but the week was busy, then when I sat down to blog I realised the keyboard had decided to retire without telling me, so I had to track down a new, more enthusiastic keyboard that was willing to work with no pay and under the constant threat of tea spillage and here we are, it’s Thursday.

Today’s book is the opener of a new cosy mystery series set in the Yorkshire Dales and although it has a punny title, I really enjoyed it.  We received our copy of Date With Death (Book 1 in the Dales Detective Series) by Julia Chapman from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Samson O’Brien has been dismissed from the police force, and returns to his home town of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales to set up a detective agency while he fights to clear his name. The people of Bruncliffe, however, aren’t that welcoming to a man they perceive as trouble – and he is greeted by his old friend, Delilah Metcalfe, not with an hug but a right hook that sends him sprawling.

Delilah, meanwhile, is besieged by financial concerns and struggling to keep her business, the Dales Detective Agency, afloat – all while trying to control her wayward Weimaraner dog Tolpuddle. Then when Samson gets his first case, investigating the supposed suicide of a local man, things take an unexpected turn, and soon he is discovering a trail of deaths that lead back to the door of Delilah’s agency. With suspicion hanging over someone they both care for, the two feuding neighbours soon realise that they need to work together to solve the mystery of the dating deaths – and working together is easier said than done.

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Plot Summary:

Delilah is in deep debt and struggling to hang on financially until her dating agency business gets off the ground. When Samson O’Brien returns to the Dales in disgrace, Delilah’s only financial option is to let him rent out her ground floor office for his new detective agency…a timely move indeed because it seems someone in their community is picking off members of Delilah’s agency one by one.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of a tricky one because there isn’t anyone in the village (or beyond) who particularly stands out as someone who would happily be serial killing members of a dating agency.  As the story moves along, instead of actual people as suspects our protagonists try to build up a mental picture of who such a person might be.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is quite a refreshing aspect of the book because in your usual murder mystery you at least have a few suspects to work with.  It takes a little while to prove that the deaths are indeed murder, and then the hunt involves some rather tricky and dangerous tactics.  As well as attending the odd speed dating night out.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the amount of dutch courage needed to get through a blind date with a farmer whose personal hygiene habits receive only passing attention

Despite the fact that this is definitely a cosy and there is a lot of time spent on developing the characters, both main and secondary, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would certainly be interested in following the series.  Delilah is the only girl in a family of manly men and is determined to make her business successful after a recent divorce.  Samson is the black sheep of the village, having left his alcoholic father in dire circumstances (in the opinion of the town) to swan off to London and bag a high paying and dangerous job with the Met.  When Samson returns home, his welcome is not particularly warm and he discovers that many things have changed drastically since he’s been away.  Samson’s return coincides with a little problem at work which he wants to keep hidden from the villagers at all cost.

I quite enjoyed the premise of the murdered folk all being from the same dating agency (although I’m sure this has been done before in some way, shape or form in other cosies) as well as the way in which Delilah and Samson (eventually) go about sorting it out.  It seems rather far-fetched that no one would bother to inform the police about their suspicions, but it works for the story and makes the eventual hunt far more suspenseful, knowing that Delilah and Samson are on their own.

As one who likes my mysteries twisty and my murders happening in quick succession, I did find the long sections developing characters, backstory and village life a little distracting, but I accept that this is obviously one of those series where the relationships between the characters and their relationship with their environment is of utmost importance.  The book also sets a bit of groundwork for other books in the series.  There are definitely some shady characters getting around Bruncliffe that will no doubt play a part in nefarious doings further down the track.

There’s a lot going on here that will satisfy those looking for both an exciting mystery and a story about coming home and reinventing oneself.  I must give a shout-out to the collective folk of the retirement village, of which Samson’s father is part, for lifting the mood whenever they appeared.  I’m glad to see that they will feature heavily in the next book in the series.  I would certainly recommend giving this one a go as your next holiday read, or, if you happen to live in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the perfect book to snuggle up under a blanket with on a rainy, lazy weekend…for whenever the humidity decides to bugger off for good.

I will be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under the category of “author using a pseudonym” because Julia Chapman is the pen name of Julia Stagg. You can check out my challenge progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Dying in the Wool…

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I’ve decided not to let you wait too long before presenting another Murderous Monday and today’s offering is the first in a new (to me) series set in the 1920s or thereabouts in England.  I must admit that I always feel a bit uncomfortable reading books set in England between the two world wars, because the people always seem so happy to be recovering from the travails of World War 1 and have no idea what’s coming for them in a very short decade.  But I digress.  Today’s book is Dying in the Wool: A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody.  I really enjoyed this involving mystery set in Yorkshire and based around the closely guarded secrets of a family of Mill owners and their workers.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Take one quiet Yorkshire village..

Bridgestead is a peaceful spot: a babbling brook, rolling hills and a working mill at its heart. Pretty and remote, nothing exceptional happens.

Add a measure of mystery …

Until the day that Master of the Mill Joshua Braithwaite goes missing in dramatic circumstances, never to be heard of again.

A sprinkling of scandal …

Now Joshua’s daughter is getting married and wants one last attempt at finding her father. Has he run off with his mistress, or was he murdered for his mounting coffers?

And Kate Shackleton, amateur sleuth extraordinaire!

Kate Shackleton has always loved solving puzzles. So who better to get to the bottom of Joshua’s mysterious disappearance? But as Kate taps into the lives of the Bridgestead dwellers, she opens cracks that some would kill to keep closed.dying in the wool

Plot Summary:

Kate Shackleton,  amateur photographer, wife (widow?) of a man missing-in-action in World War 1 and lady with a knack for chasing up lost loved ones, meets up with a friend from her VAD days and is given her first opportunity to use her skills professionally.  Teaming up with ex-policeman and friend of her father’s, Jim Sykes, Kate sets off for Bridgestead in an attempt to shed light on the six year old disappearance of her friend Tabitha’s father, the owner of the local mill and dye works.  Things are not as easy as Kate might hope, however, as everyone except Tabitha believes that the matter was over and done with six years ago and the fate of Joshua Braithwaite – whatever it happened to be – is one that need not be disturbed.  Nevertheless, Kate determinedly sets about leaving no stone unturned and with the clandestine help of Jim Sykes, may yet come up with an answer before Tabitha’s wedding…but will it be the result Tabitha was hoping for?

The Usual Suspects:

There are a shed full of suspects getting underfoot in this one: Braithwaite’s cold and dismissive wife; captain-at-the-helm for now, Joshua’s cousin Neville Stoddard; Wilson, disgruntled inventor of a new loom picker for the mill and his downtrodden, alcoholic wife; Paul and Lizzie Kellett, stalwart workers at the mill and confidantes of Joshua Braithwaite; Hector, Tabitha’s younger fiancée and witness to Braithwaite’s initial downfall and Dr Gregory Grainger, the psychiatrist in charge of the hospital to which Braithwaite was taken after his supposed attempt at suicide.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Kate’s hunt for answers is one I found to be particularly engaging because the author has done a great job of drip-feeding secrets and tidbits of information throughout the tale.  No one seems to be wholly innocent in the dealings, but of exactly what they are guilty is also up for investigation.  There are a couple of extra murders thrown in partway through the tale to muddy the waters and the twists and turns kept me guessing right to the end.

Overall Rating:

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Five poison bottles for the steady drip of dye as it permanently stains the fabric of a life

Apart from the inexplicable appearance of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at a dinner party late in the piece, this was a fairly typical but deeply involving mystery.  It’s never certain that Kate is involved in a murder mystery because no body has ever been found and, as a known philanderer, the object of Kate’s investigation could well have nipped off somewhere to start a new life, with or without an extramarital partner in tow.  I particularly enjoyed the way that the characters all seemed to have layers and motivations that were peeled back with each step of the investigation; this added to the puzzle element of the story and ensured that I didn’t twig to the murderer/s too early in the piece.

The ending was surprisingly action-packed and I was impressed with the realistic way in which the characters’ reactions to the eventual solution to the mystery (including Kate’s own reaction) were written.  While it would have been easy to wrap things up neatly, certain characters including Kate herself – as well as the reader – are left to ponder the rightness of various outcomes and actions.

I feel like this could be another series that I would be happy to continue on with intermittently when time allows, provided the writing continues to be so twisty and layered.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Utopirama from the Olden Times: Star Teacher

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Welcome to Utopirama, the place where I suggest books that are guaranteed to uplift the heart or, at the very least, not make you feel any worse than you did before you read them. The point of Utopirama posts is to highlight cosy reads across all genres that are perfect for those times when you need to retreat from the horrors of the world and escape to gentler place. Today’s selection fulfils this brief perfectly and also has the honour of being part of a series from my olden times. In fact, the earlier titles in this series of books can make the amazing claim of being the very first and second entries in my Book Depository wishlist, which now, ridiculously, boasts over 1200 individual titles.

Our book today is Star Teacher, the ninth in Jack Sheffield’s Teacher series, set in quaint Yorkshire village Ragley-on-the-Forest. When this popped up on Netgalley I was stunned to see that this was book nine – I stopped reading after book four, having skipped book three (and all subsequent instalments) due to the fact that our local library system didn’t have them (and I’m a cheapskate and therefore couldn’t possibly buy them). And all of a sudden, here was book nine!

That’s enough of my reminiscing though. Let’s get on with it. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1985, and as Jack returns for another year as headteacher at Ragley village school, some changes are in store. It’s the year of Halley’s Comet, Band Aid, Trivial Pursuit, Dynasty shoulder pads, Roland Rat and Microsoft Windows. And at Ragley-on-the-Forest, Heathcliffe Earnshaw decides to enter the village scarecrow competition, Ruby the caretaker finds romance, and retirement looms for Vera the secretary.

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Quick Overview:

The wonderful thing about this series (and series similar to it, of which there are many) is that you can stop reading at some point, pick up the lastest release some six or seven (or more) years later and absolutely nothing of substance has changed. It’s a bit like those long-running American soap operas – they of the drawn-out, moody stares and soft filtered lighting – except with fewer fake tans and a Northern accent. I came back to Jack’s life after a significant leave of absence to find things pretty much as they were in Ragley, albeit with a new baby in residence and having finally discovered which of the sisters he was keen on that he actually married.

That’s one of the interesting things about this book – while absolutely nothing of note happens throughout the preceding 200+ pages, the books always finish on a cliffhanger, usually relating to the problem that initially prompted you to pick up the book in the first place. For example, the last book that I read in the series finished on the cliffhanger of Jack making up his mind which sister he was going to pursue. This one, of course, leaves us hanging in the balance while the author strings us along, hoping we’ll buy the next book to find out whether Jack gets to remain as head teacher of Ragley village school.

The other utopiramic thing about the series is the continued references to current events, fashions and developments of the particular year in which each book is set. For example, Star Teacher is set over 1985 and 1986 so you can expect lots of mentions of the new technology of the era (the Commodore 128 computer for example!) and big events of that time (the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, for instance). I always find these references a great comfort, because while the characters are in various states of worry about such things, I, as a citizen of the future, can relax in the knowledge that I know how it all turned out.

As a Utopirama pick, you can’t go past the Teacher series, mainly because absolutely nothing painful, shocking or uncomfortable ever happens. This really is a series revolving around caricatures of the population of a small Yorkshire village (complete with phonetically rendered accents) and the head teacher of its school. On the flipside, of course, is the chance that things can get a bit tedious, because nothing painful, shocking or uncomfortable ever happens. I found that this instalment felt a bit tedious to me – although I will always go back to this series for those times when I need safe, escapist read. Provided the library has a copy of course.

Utopian Themes

Escape to the country

The carefree days of youth

Circle of friends

80s nostalgia

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

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4 out of 5 bubbles for the unsurpassed serenity of a ruminant beast supremely unconcerned with the problems of humanity

Until next time,

Bruce