Murder At The Dolphin Hotel (2019) by Helena Dixon

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.

5 comments

  1. I read this book recently and liked it. Not a lot of mystery or detection involved in the modern cozy mysteries and these stories are meant to be a light read. Also, this is the first book in the series so the author usually concentrates on building a series plot – the characters and maybe a romantic angle – in this case we have Matt and Kitty as prospective partners; also there’s the missing parent angle – this might build up in the future books of this series.
    As the series debut, this story was a little slow. I have been reading a lot of cozy mysteries and if I have to compare, I would say this book is far better than some of the debuts.
    Also, if you are interested in historical cozy mysteries (like this one), I recommend you to try Lady Hardcastle series by TE Kinsey. It is about a widow who worked as a spy for Her Majesty’s Government.

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    • T E Kinsey was one of the other authors listed in the “for fans of” bit of the blurb so I might take a look. But honestly, I’d expect a series opener to start with a bang, not a whimper, plot-wise. The impression I get is that plot won’t be that important, and as such, for me at least, that’s not a good sign. But as I said, that’s just my preferences. Glad to know that other people enjoyed it, but I’m wary of the other cosies now… Have you tried Peter Bartram’s series set in 50s Brighton? That’s the gold standard in light-hearted period mystery for me.

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      • I think it’s the same with a couple of mystery classics too. Take Mysterious Affair at Styles for example, Poirot doesn’t appear in the first half and in the second half, he’s away finding clues most of the time. I don’t think I would have followed the Poirot series if I had started reading it in series order.🙂 I have a couple of Peter Bartram’s books in my kindle, yet to read them though. I read Emily Organ’s Penny Green novella – looked quite promising and I am planning to read the series. There’s another series by Lee Strauss – Hawke and Higgins. The story is set during the time when women weren’t appreciated to work (the main characters are women – one is a ME while the other is a reporter)
        I think they put ‘for fans of’ to grab attention – I do not go by ‘fans of’ thingy. It never worked for me.🤷‍♀️
        The thing with historical cozy mysteries (or any cozy mystery for that matter) is the mystery/plot is not usually the best part of the story. I guess that is why they call it cozy. Lol.😁

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