QNPoohBear's Reviews > Murder in an English Village

Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott
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really liked it
bookshelves: cozy-mystery, historical-fiction

1920 England: The post-war boom has ended and the economy is in trouble, which is why Miss Edwina Davenport must advertise for a lodger. oh dear! She's never been so embarrassed in her life. Up to now anyway. Little does she know her life is about to take a different and exciting turn when her old school mate Beryl Heliwell, an American adventuress literally crashes into the village of Walmsley Parva! The whole village was gossipping about Edwina's pecuniary difficulties and now they have something new to gossip about! Beryl decides to save her friend from embarrassment by declaring the two of them are actually top-secret government spies! It's almost too much for Edwina to take. When Edwina is attacked in her own garden at night, she becomes more determined than ever to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Land Army girl who went missing during the war years. The local constable, deploring unladylike women, dismissed the disappearance and that was that. After questioning a maid about her old boss, the girl turns up dead. Edwina and Beryl now have another mystery to solve!

This is a really fun British cozy mystery. You have to ignore the obvious stupidity of two middle-aged women lying about being government spies even after being attacked and just go with the flow to enjoy the experience. The mystery is really tight. I went "a ha!" a few times at what I thought might be clues but nothing was adding up and the suspects were too obvious. I did eventually figure it out just before Beryl and Edwina and I figured out the motive just before the reveal. The motive was a let down. It was not what anyone had guessed. There's one additional plot twist to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The writing style isn't bad. I can easily tell the difference between the ways the two main characters speak/think so the head jumping wasn't difficult to experience. I found the mystery went on too long. They kept questioning suspects and I knew they were questioning the wrong one since there was so much more book to get through. I mostly enjoyed the 1920s setting. I learned about the Land Army during WWI, something I was only familiar with from the second world war. Post-WWI and post-Spanish Influenza was such a dark time. This book doesn't shy away from the difficult realities of post-war economic depression, soldiers with "shellshock", disfigurements, deaths from the flu and even some other nitty gritty details. The author also seamlessly weaves in the changes to British society after the war. You have new advances in technology creating new jobs for people. The cinema brought new ideas into girls' heads and made them aspire to life above their "station" and thus fewer old-school style servants. The story also considers the expectations and treatment of women in the early 20th century. Things were changing slowly and village life changes even more slowly.

Beryl is a force of nature. I'm not sure I really like her. The way she's written is very flat. While she has a lot of personality, there isn't much backstory or character growth. Beryl is just Beryl. She's larger than life and full of the devil. I really didn't like the lie she told the village gossip. It nearly cost her her friend's life. I was left wondering if she hadn't spread that rumor if Polly would still be alive. Beryl is funny. She adds the humor to this story. She also illustrates the difference between American and British conventions. While Edwina would never invite her jobbing gardner Simpkins into her home for a cup of tea, Beryl does (for something stronger, anway). Beryl sees people for who they are not the situation into which they were born. Not to say that Edwina is a snob, she is just socialized to believe this is the natural way of life. People who do menial labor are not those she socializes with. Edwina is solidly middle class with middle class values and respectability. She's a bit timid at first, being a very conventional spinster but her friend's arrival changes her life for the better. If you don't like Edwina at first- keep reading because she does start to change her views and stand up for herself. I like her character growth a lot.

The village contains an assortment of quirky characters. Some are fun, some obnoxious and others deeply touched by the war. Prudence Rathbone, the village postmistress, is the most infuriating, annoying woman. She abuses her position to snoop on everyone else and spread their secrets far and wide. There is no village large enough to hold me and THAT WOMAN! I'd surely be inclined to murder her by now. Mamie Mumford is Prudence's bosom friend and partner in the gossip vine. She turns out to be a more well-rounded and likable character than Prudence. How can you not like the village baker and tea shop owner? Her husband, the cinema owner, leaves a lot more to be desired. Beryl takes his measure right away and I think anyone less naive than Edwina does too.

Jobbing gardener Simpkins is a hoot. I don't understand his little long-running feud with Edwina but his friendship with Beryl is fun. He reveals a few surprises about himself that made me smile. Mr. Jarvis, Edwina's lawyer and possible love interest, infuriates me with his treatment of Edwina. He thinks he's being kind but he's just patronizing. Dr. Nelson also makes me angry with his comments on hysteria. I really don't care for him much even after all is revealed. Finally, there's Crumpet. Edwina's dear little dog. He doesn't have a large role in this story yet but he seems to know when people need him for comfort and he is very loyal to those he loves.

The Wallingford Estate is at the center of the mystery. During the war the house was turned into a hospital for convalescing soldiers and the grounds became a government run farm. The farm was operated by the Women's Land Army. Several of the characters are involved in this part of the mystery. Hortense Merriweather managed the agricultural portion of the estate. She's not a super likable person. A typical English countrywoman, she manages efficiently but not with kindness. She is having a hard time adjusting to post-war society. Agnes, a young woman who managed the land girls, disappeared during the war. Her disappearance bothers Edwina for Edwina knew the girl as hard-working and reliable. Polly was one of the girls in Agnes's "gang" during the war. Now Polly works as a daily maid and she's not very good at it. Polly is a bit naive but I can't blame her for wanting a better life. I kind of liked her except for one bit at the very end I thought was a bit mean maybe. Does she know what happened to Agnes? Someone may think so and it costs Polly her life.

Suspects include Michael, a mechanic and former soldier who suffered from shellshock. He formed a strong attachment to Agnes during his recovery but became quite possessive and scary. I feel really horrible for him to have to go through all that and then lose the one person who helped make him feel alive again but his interest in Agnes was unhealthy. His sister Norah seems like a capable girl but she's also intelligent enough to know how to hide things she doesn't want others to know. Then there's Norman Davies who ran the farm on the Wallingford Estate. Polly's ex-boyfriend was also seen to be getting violent with Agnes. He claims he's just trying to start up his own farm and make a life for himself but does he know what happened? Could he be a killer? I didn't really like him that much. From excessive drinking to excuses, anger and passion, he is a difficult man. Another ex-soldier is the mysterious Walter Bennett who runs the projector at the cinema. Disfigured in the war, his face is literally impossible to read. Who is he and what does he know about Polly? I really like him. He's such a sympathetic, gentlemanly man BUT could he be hiding something from his past that Polly knew?

This book is very different from Jessie Crockett's contemporary cozy mysteries but still fun. I look forward to reading more about Beryl and Edwina in the future.
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Reading Progress

March 3, 2019 – Started Reading
March 3, 2019 – Finished Reading
March 4, 2019 – Shelved
March 4, 2019 –
page 302
99.34% "quite enjoyable setting, excellent mystery. Full review to come later."
March 4, 2019 – Shelved as: cozy-mystery
March 4, 2019 – Shelved as: historical-fiction

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