BACK TO NORMAL, SORT OF
This story begins eight months after the conclusion of the previous novel, “Berried Alive.” Major Earl Monroe left Sitting Marsh – and Lady Elizabeth – all those months ago to return to America when his son was critically injured in an accident. In those eight months, Elizabeth has only heard from Earl twice, once to let her know that the son was recovering and then a generic Christmas card essentially addressed to the entire household.
And now, as the story opens, Lady Elizabeth is doing exactly what she has done every single day for the last eight months. She is putting one foot in front of the other and doing her duty to the village as befitting her position as Lady of the Manor. And she is trying to accept her life as it now is, lonely, on the edge of poverty and alone but for her servants and employees.
Then two events transpire on consecutive days. First, the newly opened and actively despised munitions factory is set ablaze, in the middle of the night, killing its manager and a cleaning lady. And on the next day, Lady Elizabeth returns from her initial investigation into the fire and finds a familiar Jeep parked in its special place in the courtyard.
Kingsbury does a marvelous job of constructing the mystery surrounding the fire and deaths at the munitions factory. Even though this is the seventh book in the series, the author is able to create fresh situations and misadventures for Elizabeth to get into. No two murders or murderers or motives are ever the same. These may be cozies by genre, but they are not cookie-cutter books. Each entry advances the personal storyline of each character, major and secondary, and incorporates the events of the mystery into their personalities.
If I have one complaint about this series – and this book – it is the author’s constant need to make Elizabeth incredibly logical one minute and pitifully naïve the next. Kingsbury writes Lady Elizabeth as a character who is highly intelligent, incredibly observant and honorable almost to a fault. Then she belies that intelligence by writing her as a woman with a tendency toward absolutes, constantly using modifiers such as “never,” “always” and “couldn’t possibly.”
And while Kingsbury has Earl repeatedly warn Elizabeth that one day he may not be there or get to her in time to save her from her impetuousness, Elizabeth still, after at least four near-death experiences, believes otherwise. And I quote: “…she went with him into the cool, dark night, secure in the knowledge that no matter what scrapes she might get into, he would always be there for her.”
I realize that this type of statement is an oh-so-romantic end to the book, but it is not realistic. In fact, it clashes with everything else that Kingsbury has had Elizabeth express through her internal monologues. It’s as if Lady Elizabeth, at the end of the story, develops complete amnesia regarding the last eight months without Earl and has truly deluded herself to the fact that he still pilots bombers over Germany.
There are still two books left in the series. Any reader with a lick of experience in a mystery series that has continuing characters can see where this is heading.
Cover Art from Goodreads