June 1933, Torquay. Kitty Underhay has been placed in charge of her grandmother’s hotel, one of the oldest buildings on the southwest coast of England. Her grandmother is heading away, despite a number of threatening letters that seem to imply that Kitty is in danger. At least her grandmother enlists ex-Captain Matthew Bryant as a security officer.
Soon(ish) one of the hotel maids lies dead and more deaths follow. Is it related to Kitty’s missing mother who abandoned her when she was very young? Is it related to Kitty’s missing father who abandoned her when she was slightly younger? Is it connected to a missing ruby that her mother had before she vanished? And is it really a book for fans of Agatha Christie?
Yes, it’s another foray into a “Fans of Agatha Christie will love this” crime fiction, as part of my 20/20 Vision challenge. The last one, Murder At The Brightwell was a fun read, but the mystery element was slightly less involving than a game of Guess Who. That book did have a great pair of lead characters who, to be honest, I’d like to read more about.
This one… well…
OK, this is about the third draft of the review that I’ve written. I should warn you, this is going to be a negative review. I don’t post them very often, as normally I just put the book down and never mention it again, but I had high hopes for this one. I do like the cosy genre when it’s done well, and, given the comparison with Dame Agatha, I had hopes of a surprise ending. Hence I finished the book, and, as I paid for it, my policy is to write a review.
I know full well, there will be people who don’t like reading negative reviews – that’s fine, move along, I liked the book I’ll be reviewing next a lot. If this is going to annoy you, then please, stop reading here. And if you’re the author, please bear in mind, as I mention at the end of the piece, there are many glowing reviews out there. But speaking as someone with more than a little experience in the genre, I feel that I need to share my issues with the book.
First of all, there is very little detection, especially on the part of the supposed lead character. This is a Kitty Underhay Mystery, so it seemed odd to me that this lead character spent most of the time very efficiently running a hotel and letting Captain Matt do the investigating and, at the end of the book, rescuing her. But even Captain Matt basically seems to be walking around waiting for the killer to get impatient and reveal themselves in the tried and trusted method of trying to kill our hero/heroine. This is reminiscent of a lot of modern day cosy mysteries, the ones that I’ve read anyway, but if ever Poirot caught the killer in the act, it’s because Poirot knew who the killer was and set a trap for them. And while we’re on the identity of the killer in a cosy mystery – there needs to be more than an obvious suspect and one other significant character who turns out to be the guilty party. That isn’t a twist, it’s almost an expectation.
Plotwise, this is mostly the case with the aforementioned Murder At The Brightwell too, but that got round me with it’s characters. The independent female sleuth and her caddish husband made a winning team. Kitty and Matthew on the other hand just didn’t grab me. The potential romance box is ticked pretty early in the narrative, but we’re in the modern style of holding back secrets about each of their pasts until later books – Kitty’s missing mother/father (one of them turns up in this one) and Matthew’s PTSD/dead wife (?) and child/unclear war record – he joined up at fourteen somehow in 1914?
And how much was a ruby worth in 1933? Enough to murder a small handful of people?
Well, let me put a caveat on this – it’s what I think. It’s not what the 84 out of 97 readers on Amazon think, giving it four or five stars. Or what 475 out of 626 people think on Goodreads. If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it as a mystery, please do let me know. I’m presumably missing something.