Oxford, 1960, and Dunbars’ Jams, Honeys and Marmalades is trying to break into the big time by sponsoring the Miss Oxford Honey Beauty Pageant, but a shadow has already been cast over proceedings when one of the contestants is found dead, poisoned by yew berries. The assumption of suicide is made, but when some other disturbing events occur at the theatre, it seems that a murderer is on the loose.
WPC Trudy Loveday and her partner/mentor, Coroner Clement Ryder, are on the case, with Trudy doing her best Miss Congeniality impression as she goes undercover as a contestant. But things are beginning to turn even deadlier…
This is the third Loveday and Ryder book. The basic set-up is that she is a trainee WPC in the Oxford police force, the only woman on the force, and he has seen her potential, so ropes her in when he gets the chance. Oh, and he’s suffering from early Parkinson’s Disease, which he is hiding from everyone, even Trudy, who think he has a drinking problem.
Blimey, you review 1260 mystery novels without a beauty contest in sight, and then two come along in the past five books…
I’ve reviewed the first two Loveday and Ryder books on the blog. I enjoyed the first one a lot – that’s A Fatal Obsession – and the second one was good, although I thought one clue was a bit heavy-handed. This one… well, it just didn’t click with me.
There were some good points – there is progression in the relationship between the two leads, which I was a bit worried was going to stagnate, for example – but I had more trouble getting involved with the mystery this time.
We get some insight into the thoughts of the “picker of Yew berries”, which is difficult to do. Here, the author hides their true intentions by having them think almost cryptically to themselves. I re-read the first such section once I knew who the murder was, and it does sort of work, but it’s a stretch to believe that anyone would actually think like that.
The beauty contestants never particularly gripped me either – the judges are more interesting – so the Trudy-undercover sections dragged for me. And also, and fairly critically for me, it didn’t feel clued like the first two books. Maybe I missed something, but I felt that we were told who the murderer was, rather than being able to work it out.
I’ll definitely be coming back to the series at some point, but this wasn’t as strong a mystery as the first two books. I’d be back sooner to find the resolution of the cliff-hanger, if they hadn’t printed the first chapter of book four at the back of this one which tells you what happened… Whoops!
I enjoyed this one, and I enjoy Martin’s books in general, but they’re sort of… workmanlike, I find? I feel like she sticks pretty much to a template across all her series–we have a sleuth with a bit of home life, and the mystery is carried forward by a series of interviews (formal in her police procedurals, informal in her cozies) with characters that are somewhat developed but have a distinct whiff of the stock about them. As I said, I genuinely like her books, but there’s just a certain ineffable spark that I find is missing.
This particular one I had no major complaints about, though I agree that the beauty pageant contestants weren’t all that engaging.
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I really really hate books that have the opening chapter of the subsequent one stuck in at the back. I’m short of shelf space as it is without this waste of paper. Whoever invented this practice should have something decidedly nasty done to them.