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The Family Vault (Kelling & Bittersohn #1)

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  1,191 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
Sarah Kelling calls in art historian Max Bittersohn when the family finds the skeleton of a burlesque queen who vanished over thirty years ago in their Beacon Hill family vault, opened for great-uncle Frederick. The complex murder plot stretches into the past of Boston and marks Sarah as another victim.
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 2nd 2002 by iBooks (first published 1979)
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1979, #1 Sarah Kelling/Max Bittersohn, Beacon Hill, Boston; genteel cosy, still wonderful despite age. High jinks (and murder) in High Society, but with a very dark edge

Mrs. Sarah Kelling has lived a very privileged life in the highest social circles of Boston, living on Beacon Hill and having a very extended - and locally famous (or infamous, but more on that later...) family. While she hasn't been pampered much, she has been sheltered from much of the daily grind most folks know, and lived in
Oct 05, 2016 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, owned, 2016
Narrated by Andi Arndt. A very nice, easy mystery novel. A great start to the series. A young wife, an older husband, and deadly family secrets keep one enthralled until the end.
Even though I *knew* one of the characters was going to die in this novel (because of foreshadowing), and I knew what had happened to the family jewels, in a generic way, I was still quite surprised by this little gem of a novel. You might be so, too. Give it a try.
Four stars, and recommended for lovers of mystery.
I don't know how I managed to never read this first title of the series. It is lucky I did now since my system has only one copy of the first book left. This was sad, different and fun. It is really nice for once in a mystery to have the death happen to someone who was a sweet person and really missed and grieved for. Not that anyone was grieving his mother who died with him. I knew that Alexander was going to be dead since that is mentioned in virtually all the succeeding books. However, I didn ...more
Otto Penzler
Sep 25, 2012 Otto Penzler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Family Vault is the first book in the Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn mystery series and, like the others, is a splendid screwball “whodunit” that readers of cozies will love. Often called “America’s Agatha Christie,” MacLeod wrote charming and humorous mysteries, and this particular series is one of the best. The Family Vault introduces the eccentric northeastern Kelling clan. Sarah Kelling’s great-uncle wishes to be buried in the family’s vault – but upon inspecting the tomb to prepare fo ...more
Susan Ferguson
Apr 14, 2013 Susan Ferguson rated it it was amazing
Love Charlotte MacLeod's books.
This is the first in the Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series.....
At the beginning of the book, Sarah is a lot, weary girl married to her second cousin Alexander whom she adores. Alex is about 20 years older than she is. The whole family seems to turn to Alexander when there is a problem and he is constantly dancing attendance on his mother who has become deaf and blind. She is still very involved with committees, etc. and expect Alex to wait on her pleasure for
Sep 29, 2014 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this ebook a while ago, but just now got to reading it. I wish I had read it earlier. Charlotte McLeod is an excellent writer with a sense of humor and a gift for creating very likable characters. I couldn't even hate the bad guys (the few there were). This is definitely a "cozy" mystery. Oh, and I didn't figure out who did it (entirely), which was nice.

The story opens with Sarah Keeling waiting in a Boston cemetery for the opening of her family's tomb.

"Great-uncle Frederick had vowed
Jan 09, 2011 Mare rated it really liked it
Charlotte MacLeod is one of my all time favorite authors and The Family Vault is the first in the Sarah Kelling series. It is set in Boston with an odd selection of relatives and friends who showcase Sarah to fine advantage. While making arrangements to bury a family member Sarah finds a corpse in the family vault that doesn't belong there. We follow the unraveling of an old murder while peering into a lifestyle not often seen now.
May 13, 2017 Philip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm breaking one of my self imposed rules here as I try NOT to write reviews of books by authors who are no longer with us but I just thought I should make some comments about this one after reading many of the reviews here and the book blurbs. First this book is actually a pretty dark and gritty mystery and I liked reading it quite a bit however I didn't find much of the humour I was expecting. I am a huge fan of Charlotte MacLeod's work and I have really enjoyed the Balaclava/Peter Shandy seri ...more
Feb 22, 2017 FangirlNation rated it it was amazing
In The Family Vault, the first novel in the Sarah Kelling/Max Bittersohn series by Charlotte MacLeod, dotty old Great-Uncle Frederick has finally kicked the bucket, but refusing to be buried near his late wife, he has ordered in his will that his body be interred in the historic family vault in Beacon Hill, Boston, which, when opened up, reveals a brick wall not in the plans and the body of a burlesque dancer with rubies in her teeth. Thus begins the wild ride that the heretofore tame life of Sa ...more
May 29, 2012 Cornerofmadness rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 11, 2017 Sallie rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries
I couldn't remember if I'd read this 1st of the series ages ago when I read the others, and some of it was familiar, but not all of it, so I guess it was time to read or re-read it. I do enjoy this series, and all Charlotte MacLeod's mysteries.

Mary Jo
Jul 08, 2017 Mary Jo rated it liked it
I would give this 3 1/2 stars if this were an option. I was entertained, but not fully engaged. It was a fun read but the ending definitely fell flat.
Mar 11, 2017 Debbye rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing is very good and the characters are vivid. The only reason it didn't get 4 stars is that it seemed most of the book was setting up the series. I've started the second book and it's already better.
May 16, 2017 Marcella rated it it was ok
Just an OK book. The mystery is not really believable. If you thought your husband or your mother-in-law was responsible for (capable of) murdering at least 3 people wouldn't you be weirded out? THis girl/woman seems to take it in stride. And the Boston references were all just a little "off".
Jun 08, 2014 C. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I determinedly collect Charlotte MacLeod’s works. “The Family Vault” débuts a grand series. Memorable people and plots are indubitably her gifts. Sarah Kelling’s family is unusual, lacing the inaugural volume with flair. As they look into burying cousin Dolph’s guardian, we learn the Kellings enjoy funerals in droves. Frederick decreed interment in a disused family crypt. Charlotte’s writing grips us -always- with crispness and humour at once. “Nobody had so chosen for the past 146 years but Gre ...more
Oct 12, 2012 Catherine rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
This is the second time I've read this book and I enjoyed every minute of it. Sarah Kelling, a younger member of one of Boston's elite families, marries her much older cousin after both her parents are killed. She has loved Alexander for many years, ever since she was a little girl. But, most of the family still treats her as the "little girl" they've known all along. Even her husband, Alexander. But, most of Alexander's time is spent caring for his blind and deaf mother.

When the body of a local
Lis Carey
Nov 17, 2012 Lis Carey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, fiction
This is the first of the very popular Sarah & Max mysteries, featuring Sarah Kelling and her wonderfully mad old New England family. Having married her cousin and become a fairly young widow, Sarah finds herself dealing with a series of unexpected and increasingly distressing problems. These include the discovery of the corpse of a long-missing exotic dancer, Ruby Redd, in the family vault where her late husband wished to be buried.

It turns out that's the least of her troubles. Art fraud, bl
May 29, 2013 Judy rated it liked it
The Kelling family of Boston, like all old-money New England families, has a spacious and well-maintained family vault for the burial of their dead. But Great-Uncle Frederick has a stipulation in his will that his remains be placed in the old family vault at Boston Common. Problem one: the old vault hasn't received a body in over a hundred years and there is concern that the lock won't work after all of this time. Problem two: The lock worked fine, but then a fairly recently built brick wall is ...more
I stumbled upon this when I looked for something new to read in my parent's house. My mother already cautioned me that I might find the book a bit silly. I do like screwball comedy though, and the silliness wasn't what led me to give three stars. It's just that not only is the character flat, I have to suspend my disbelief about her schedule a bit too often. I've never been to Boston, but even if this had been a tiny village, there simply wouldn't be enough time to do all this! She visits 4 peop ...more
Aug 21, 2011 Amelia-Irene rated it it was amazing
This was the first book in the series, one that I finally found. I love this series and it's a shame that there really wasn't an ending book before Charlotte MacLeod passed on. Sarah Kelling married her husband right after her father's death when she was 17 or 18 and this is 6 years after the fact. They find a body in the family vault, which they are opening up to entomb Great-Uncle Frederick as per his last wish, and an onlooker realizes who it is... a woman who disappeared 20 years before. Who ...more
Jul 25, 2016 Ed rated it really liked it
#1 in the Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn mystery series.

Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn mystery - Like many old New England families, the Kellings live to die. Although their family vault is spacious and comfortable, for Sarah Kelling's Great-Uncle Frederick it will not do. In his will, he demands to be buried inside the ancient family tomb at Boston Common, which hasn't admitted a new member in over a century. But when the Kellings crack the old vault's door, they find a recently built bric
May 18, 2013 Pat rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery
with a well written and strong first chapter, MacLeod lured me into the novel. However, her characters were all one dimensional and unlikeable. I lost sympathy with the heroine who as narrator was given the role of describing them. She did so with such biting sarcasm, that I lost any sympathy I should have had for her and began lumping her into this disgusting familial mileu she introduced as being incestuous in order to hoard family money.

The introduction of her protagonist Max Bittersohn in t
Lynne Tull
May 13, 2016 Lynne Tull rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
Be forewarned: This is the first book of a series that was published in 1979. There is a lot of dialogue/description that is setting the stage for more books to come. There was a lot of skimming my way through some of the details. Because it was published in the the late '70's, the way of life and the cost of living was very different. I found it very interesting to think back to those times. I had decided that these 'cozy' mysteries weren't for me any more. Then, about half-way through I got ho ...more
Jul 19, 2008 Joan rated it it was amazing
this is my favortie of this series. It is so bizarre. I remember reading as Sarah becomes more aware and not so oppressed that begins with the brickwork around the vault. The mother-in-law is so extremely bad and obsessed with her little lover. And the first husband, what a whimp. One of the things I like about this author is the whole extended family in Boston thing that she uses, they are so eccentric. And Sarah surviving this truly sick situation and finally waking up to what is going on. The ...more
Charlie Moses
Jun 21, 2016 Charlie Moses rated it really liked it
I have to shake my head. The perpetrator of almost every crime that takes place in this story is someone whose monumental evilness is right there in front of the reader the whole time. As the setting of this story recedes into the more-distant past, we are admitted to a world that doesn't really exist anymore. It is, nevertheless, made bright and immediate and fresh for our view as we enter into the story and are then carried along, willy-nilly, on a trip through Boston's back bay that is full o ...more
Nov 15, 2013 Mimi rated it it was amazing
The intro says it all:
If you bought this book because your first copy has fallen to pieces with so many rereadings, welcome to the club. If you borrowed it from your local library because you enjoyed it immensely when you first read it years ago and you want to see if the story holds up, believe me: it does. If you acquired it to finish out your collection of Kelling novels, then you already know some of the surprises Charlotte MacLeod devised for you. But if this is your very first meeting with
Oct 17, 2016 Richard rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-16, mystery
Cozy mysteries are a tricky thing. If the voice appeals to you, a lot can be forgiven.

This was kind of a near miss for me, but a miss it is. It seems odd to me that a main character in his early forties is written as positively ancient, and the scope of the crimes is kind of shocking. Six murders, fraud, AND jewel theft? And it took the discovery of an actual corpse for the heroine to realize something is amiss at home? Geez.

Good thing people have a habit of confessing to her.

I would not be ent
Susan in NC
Aug 12, 2016 Susan in NC rated it it was amazing
Still an all-time favorite, this was the first Charlotte MacLeod I ever read long, long ago - she and Elizabeth Peters are my two favorite cozy-clever-hilarious mystery writers! Is that a thing?! I think I just invented a new category...

I have reread this one and several others in the Sarah Kelling-Max Bittersohn series many times, and love MacLeod's Professor Peter Shandy series even more - I reread "Rest Ye Merry" as one of my Christmas favorites every year. Her books are like candy, I can't s
Feb 15, 2016 Teddi rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-series
I don't know why I missed this series when I've read the rest of the author's books.
A lot in this book is quite dated from the cost of things to women's roles but the story does hold up. I questioned a few things, especially Sarah's trust in Max when she doesn't know him at all. Her calling her her husband darling over and over was a bit annoying.
But all in all, the book flows well even if things seem to happen quite quickly. I still enjoyed it better than a lot of the fluff being written nowada
Feb 02, 2013 Maria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
It has been so long since I first read this book that I had forgotten how good it is. Horrible, but good. The reader's heart is wrung by Sarah Kelling's misfortunes, which she faces one after another with fortitude. Young as she is, dependent as she has been for most of her life, when she begins to assert herself, you feel like cheering. The ending leaves you with a hint of hope but with no clear understanding of what will become of her, unusual in this genre. If you can stop here and not go on ...more
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TwitBookClub: October 2016 - 'The Family Vault' by Charlotte MacLeod 1 2 Aug 06, 2016 01:52AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: #172 - The Family Vault 1 1 Oct 16, 2014 11:42AM  
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Naturalized US Citizen

Also wrote as Alisa Craig

Charlotte MacLeod, born in New Brunswick, Canada, and a naturalized U.S. citizen, was the multi-award-winning author of over thirty acclaimed novels. Her series featuring detective Professor Peter Shandy, America's homegrown Hercule Poirot, delivers "generous dollops of...warmth, wit, and whimsy" (San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle). But full
More about Charlotte MacLeod...

Other Books in the Series

Kelling & Bittersohn (1 - 10 of 12 books)
  • The Withdrawing Room (Kelling & Bittersohn, #2)
  • The Palace Guard (Kelling & Bittersohn, #3)
  • The Bilbao Looking Glass (Kelling & Bittersohn, #4)
  • The Convivial Codfish (Kelling & Bittersohn, #5)
  • The Plain Old Man (Kelling & Bittersohn, #6)
  • The Recycled Citizen (Kelling & Bittersohn, #7)
  • The Silver Ghost (Kelling & Bittersohn, #8)
  • The Gladstone Bag (Kelling & Bittersohn, #9)
  • The Resurrection Man (Kelling & Bittersohn, #10)
  • The Odd Job (Kelling & Bittersohn, #11)

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