Henry Deveraux Twyst is the eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, living on the estate of Chellingworth Hall in Powys, Wales. He receives a late night telephone call from Althea, the Dowager Duchess (i.e. his mother) claiming that she has found a dead body on the floor of the dining room. When he arrives – guess what – the body has vanished. This seems to confirm his suspicions that his mother may be losing her faculties, when she produces a woolly hat that she found next to the body – a hat covered in blood.
Enter the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency – WISE standing for Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English – a quartet of female sleuths with a variety of skills. Going undercover in the Hall and the surrounding village, there seems to be little to go on. Nothing was stolen from the Hall and the alarms weren’t disturbed. But when one of them goes missing, it seems that someone is very concerned about the truth coming out…
This is the first in a new series from author Cathy Ace – she’s also written four other mysteries featuring Cait Morgan. Not read those, I’m afraid. What’s slightly odd about this series is that it starts with the second act – there’s an untold tale of a serial killer that brought the women together. I wonder if the author intends to write that as a flashback or whether this will remain untold forever… Anyway, we open with the agency struggling for money until the case turns up.
It took me a little while to settle with the characters, but the writer does a good job of making them work. The variety of ages and personalities make a set of distinct characters and the story soon moves on at a rapid pace.
To clarify, before I give a couple of problems that I had with the story, I really enjoyed reading it and will look out Cathy’s other series at some point. But…
- It’s not really a whodunit per se. More of a “what’s going on” but that’s revealed a little too early for my tastes. It’s much more of a cozy-thriller than a mystery.
- For a tale about four strong women, a large amount of the deduction and heroics is given over to a fifth character who happens to be male. I was surprised how much of the “action” was given to him – he’s an interesting character, possibly the most interesting in the book, but it did seem to undermine the female leads.
But nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable read. Well worth a look.
This review copy was provided by Severn House via Netgalley.