Series: Honeychurch Hall #1
Published by Minotaur Books on 5/13/14
Genres: British mystery, Cozy Mystery
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
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Also in this series: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall, A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall
Also by this author: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall, A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall, Death at High Tide
Kat Stanford is just days away from starting her dream antique business with her newly widowed mother Iris when she gets a huge shock. Iris has recklessly purchased a dilapidated carriage house at Honeychurch Hall, an isolated country estate located several hundred miles from London.
Yet it seems that Iris isn’t the only one with surprises at Honeychurch Hall. Behind the crumbling façade, the inhabitants of the stately mansion are a lively group of eccentrics to be sure—both upstairs and downstairs —and they all have more than their fair share of skeletons in the closet.
When the nanny goes missing, and Vera, the loyal housekeeper ends up dead in the grotto, suspicions abound. Throw in a feisty, octogenarian countess, a precocious seven year old who is obsessed with the famous fighter pilot called Biggles, and a treasure trove of antiques, and there is more than one motive for murder.
As Iris’s past comes back to haunt her, Kat realizes she hardly knows her mother at all. A when the bodies start piling up, it is up to Kat to unravel the tangled truth behind the murders at Honeychurch Hall.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall has a little of the feel of a Margery Allingham mystery, with its eccentric characters, convoluted plot, masses of secrets, and quirky British humor. But it’s definitely no period piece, for all it takes place at a venerable stately home. This is decidedly today’s Britain: the estate is dilapidated and in dire need of money; there are few servants left; the main character just left her job with an Antiques Roadshow-style television program; there are celebrity gossip shows and protests over a proposed railway line. The housekeeper even wears designer shoes (though it’s a mystery how she can afford them.)
On the other hand, some of the characters are clearly living in the past — or hiding from it. The dowager countess, Edith, is losing her memory (or is she?) and clings to the past through her horses and snuffbox collection. Young Harry, her grandson, is obsessed with a fictional WWI- and II-era fighter pilot (“Biggles.”) And Kat’s mother seems to be both revisiting and hiding her own past.
The characters are perhaps the best part of the whole book. Eccentric and individual, for the most part they avoid becoming caricatures, displaying very human emotions and flaws. Kat is both the main character and first-person narrator; she’s likable but far from perfect, from her frustrations with her mother to her current love interest. She’s not static, either, but grows at least a little in both areas by the end of the book. Kat’s mother Iris is a hoot, and I honestly couldn’t blame Kat for some of her frustration even as I found myself warming to Iris. I also really like the police detective, Shawn, though he doesn’t appear as often as I expected him to. He walks the tightrope between his job and his familiarity with the suspects with tact and integrity, while remaining charmingly casual and even a bit rumpled.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the comic moments and the English setting, I found the novel a little confusing at first. It was hard to keep track of who was who in the beginning chapters. Eventually I did get the cast of characters straight, but there are also scads of secrets — almost everyone seems to be hiding at least one. And between the nanny’s disappearance, the housekeeper’s death, a decades-old robbery, and possibly the death of the first earl’s wife, not to mention whether and why someone is trying to drive Kat’s mum out of the Carriage House she recently purchased… well, it’s hard to determine what the central mystery is, which secrets tie in, and which are irrelevant. It may have been a little hard for author Hannah Dennison, too, because while most of the secrets are revealed eventually, not everything is completely resolved, and the solution ends up looking a bit like a jackdaw’s nest, with bits and pieces sticking out in all directions.
Still, perhaps that, like the estate itself, is more realistic than the polished grand homes and neat resolutions in an Agatha Christie novel (dearly as I love them.) After all, in real life things rarely resolve neatly, with every detail tucked into place. And perhaps that’s why, despite its flaws, I really enjoyed this funny, mixed-up, and sometimes moving mystery, and find myself hoping for more.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2014