WHEN IS A COZY NOT SO COZY?
4 STARS OUT OF 5
This is the 4th book in the Manor House series by Kate Kingsbury. The story opens only a few weeks after the conclusion of the previous novel, Death is in the Air. Because most of the characters, major and secondary, continue from one book to the next, this entry is really not a standalone novel. While backstory for the major characters is briefly touched upon, that is not enough to truly appreciate the situation in which WWII has placed Lady Elizabeth Hartleigh Compton. Therefore, I would recommend that the series be read in order.
Now, on the practical side, these books are difficult to find. Most of the entries in this series have not yet been converted to e-format and are out of active publication in paper format. They are quite expensive in the used book market and the public library system that serves my city of over a million souls has only one copy of this particular issue. However, it is worth seeking out this entry as it contains the plot arc in which the relationship between Lady Elizabeth and Major Monroe begins its shift toward the romantic side.
While this book is classified as a cozy historical mystery, I would consider it as a “cozy” only because the primary character has no ties to the policing community, not even as a private investigator. I would also think that editors would classify this as a cozy because the mystery is solved as a part of and while the lead character is fulfilling her daily obligations as administrator and guardian of the manor.
However, there is nothing cozy about the manner of murder. There is nothing cozy about the interrogation of Lady Elizabeth and Polly by the military investigators. And there is absolutely nothing cozy about the confrontation between Lady Elizabeth and the murderer.
While this book is not written in the first person, the story is told primarily from Lady Elizabeth’s point of view. Thus, we only get to analyze the clues at the speed with which the author allows them into the sphere of our main character. All the clues are subtle, no obvious red herrings, and all suspects are plausible. And just like Elizabeth, I missed the main clue. Oh, I identified the murderer, but, just like Elizabeth, I missed the twist.
For me, missing the twist was an “Oh. Well, huh!” moment. But for the character of Elizabeth, missing the twist nearly caused her death. So if surviving without a scratch and being rescued at the last moment by the rising love interest in her life are characteristics of a cozy, then this novel is a cozy. However, it is surely a realistically plotted one, right up to and including the rescue.
Kate Kingsbury is quite adept at portraying a historical period. Her characters speak with the dialect and vocabulary of the times. The internal monologues stay in character, as do the descriptions of the surrounding countryside, homes and businesses. And her ability to write the character of Martin, the increasingly senile butler, is a wonder. He is given a demeanor that is stately rather than pathetic. And the man is absolutely hilarious. The looks that the author puts on his face, the stances that she gives his body and the way she has him phrase his words make you think that he may not be as barmy as he appears.
And speaking of being hilarious, don’t let the cozy nature of this story stop you from reading before you get to Chapter 9. In this chapter, Lady Elizabeth and her staff finally begin a chore that they have been discussing periodically for several chapters, cleaning the chimneys. Within just a few paragraphs you know exactly what’s going to happen; you can see it coming a mile away. And by the last word of the chapter, you will be howling with laughter, tears rolling down your cheeks. Bravo, Kate Kingsbury, for a scene that I will probably never forget.
Cover art from Goodreads.