THE PLANES ARE IN THE AIR
This is the penultimate novel in the Manor House series, following “Fire When Ready.” This is not a standalone novel; all the backstory for the characters has been firmly established many books ago and is not summarized here. And it is set at the end of May 1944. The war in Britain has been going on for 5 years and the Allied Invasion of Normandy is rumored to be only days away.
Each of the seven previous books has revolved around three plot lines – two major, one secondary. The two major storylines revolve around a murder and around the relationship between Lady Elizabeth and Major Earl Monroe. The secondary plot line, that of the relationship between Polly (Lady Elizabeth’s assistant) and Sam Cutter (an injured American pilot now back in the States) is finally resolved early in this book and is replaced by a totally different type of plot – a kidnapping.
The murder plot for this novel involves the demise, during a wedding reception, of the boyfriend of one of the bridesmaids. It seems that the dear departed has been arguing with everyone lately, including the bridesmaid, so there is no lack of suspects. Lady Elizabeth feels that the constables have focused on the wrong suspect and sets out to identify the real murderer.
Lady Elizabeth’s brain, by her own acknowledgement, is over-tasked and muddled by her fears for Earl Monroe’s safety in the air. Therefore, she misses clues left and right, particularly one early on, when a character refers to the manner of death when Elizabeth has not yet revealed that information.
But missing those clues is not just because of her fears for Earl. It is also related to the second plot line. Her housekeeper, Sadie, is the third of three ladies to go missing in less than 24 hours. So now, Lady Elizabeth has to sort out two cases simultaneously, a device that Kate Kingsbury has not used in this series previously.
And another device that is not usually in Kingsbury’s repertoire also shows up in that same kidnapping story line – comedy. When Sadie disappears practically under Polly’s nose, Lady Elizabeth mounts a rescue attempt on her own. Now imagine Lady Elizabeth and Polly on the motorcycle, Constable George in the sidecar and it’s after dark during a wartime blackout. Kingsbury uses 16 pages to affect the chase and rescue. It is hilarious to the point of tears, but it is also totally plausible within the culture and conditions of the time.
But Kingsbury employs yet a third device to bring this story home. Kingsbury has only written Earl into the novel physically two or three times. This is a different absence than the one precipitated by events in “Berried Alive.” By limiting his exposure, Kingsbury is setting the stage for what the series has been leading up to for so many entries.
As occurs in many cozies, the heroine solves the crime but at unintended peril to her own health and safety. But what doesn’t occur in many cozies is a cliffhanger, particularly a cliffhanger that has a huge formation of bombers flying across real cliffs.
Cover Art from Goodreads