Liz has been reading High Wire In Nuala by Harriet Steel
Returning to Nuala in 1930s Ceylon is always a pleasure. The courteous Inspector Shanti de Silva and his delightful wife Jane have an active social life in the pleasant Hill town and on this occasion, it includes a visit to a travelling Russian circus. Shanti is not looking forward to the performance of the snake charmer, but he enjoys watching the clowns and the high wire act, until there is a disaster. Shanti’s boss, Archie Clutterbuck, does not consider the death of a Russian a relevant problem to the local police force, but the detective is determined to check the circumstances.
This volume of the series involves Shanti in undercover work and his Sergeant, Prasanna, excels himself. Add in the fear of poisonous snakes, rivalry between two female performers and another case involving jewellery burglary and you have an exciting, action-packed tale. The story is further enhanced by detailed descriptions of parts of the locality.
“The vicarage’s mellow stone walls basked in the afternoon sunshine. As if to remind viewers of its inhabitants calling, the tall windows were set in pointed Gothic arches decorated with carvings that were more modest versions of those at the church. A vigorous soft-pink rose spread its branches between the windows, also scrambling over the roof of the deep entrance porch. The latter was decorated with a fleur-de-lis pattern of faded blue on a yellowish-cream glaze, well-worn by many years of footsteps; the front door was a massive piece of oak.”
The escapades of kittens, Billy and Bella, are a pleasant interlude between progress in the case and dire danger to our hero. I particularly enjoyed this novel and can see it as an episode in a cosy crime TV series similar to Death in Paradise.
Much to the delight of the locals, a colourful Russian circus rolls into Nuala, but the fun ends abruptly when, on the opening night, a tragic accident takes place. Shanti de Silva and his wife, Jane are among the crowd to witness the accident. Or was it an accident? Inspector de Silva senses murder, and soon, he’s juggling with the evidence. Will the trail lead to the circus’s dashing stunt rider and master of horse, Alexei Goncharov, or to Alexei’s brother Boris, its boisterous ringmaster? Throw a string of jewel thefts and some deadly snakes into the mix and the list of suspects grows. De Silva will need to keep his wits about him to unravel yet another absorbing puzzle in this charming and addictive mystery series set in the 1930s in exotic Ceylon.
Listed Dead is the third in the Bunch Courtney series and told from her perspective in the third person. There’s much more insight into the Courtney sisters’ background, the environment in which they grew up and the family dynamics in this book. Things have changed drastically for Bunch since the start of the war. The family home, Perringham House, has been requisitioned by the military and Bunch is left to run the estate with the help of Land Girls, while living at the Dower House with her Granny Beatrice.
When a body is discovered in a fatal car wreck close to Perringham House Bunch goes to investigate, hoping it’s no-one from the estate. She knows there’s something suspicious about the accident when she finds Chief Inspector Wiiliam Wright at the scene. The victim is familiar to Bunch as a friend of her sister’s, one of a group of young pleasure seekers who got together several years ago to form a supper club. When a second member of the club is found dead, Bunch finds herself acting as a police consultant (once she and Wright overcame the issue of her title) finding out what she can about the victims and those members of the club who are still around.
I enjoyed the interaction between Bunch and Chief Inspector Wright and their joint investigation. They make a good team and there’s scope for more of a relationship. Bunch is familiar with the lifestyle of the privileged younger set, who want to live as they did before the war and which couldn’t be further from the lives of ordinary people and those serving in the military. Her knowledge of people and places help, but as she invites gossip from friends and contacts someone is not happy with her interference. There’s a darker undercurrent to this story than previously and the trail leads Bunch into life threatening situations.
The writing and characterisations are realistic and authentic for the time, as is the atmosphere which is re-enforced by a strong sense of place. Bombing raids, rationing, air raid shelters and blackouts are becoming part of everyday all across the country, although the cities are hit the hardest, most notably London. The descriptions of the air raids, the shelters and life generally was very evocative.
Bunch is an extremely likeable protagonist, resourceful, determined and quick to notice things. Not much would cause her to deviate once her mind was made up. A very enjoyable read.
November 1940. The Battle of Britain has only just ended and the horror of the Blitz is reaching its height.
Two deaths in rapid succession on the Sussex Downs brings Bunch Courtney and Chief Inspector Wright together once more. What could possibly link a fatal auto accident with the corpse in a derelict shepherd’s hut? The only clue the pair have is a handwritten list of the members of a supper club that meets at London’s Café de Paris.
Two of those on that list are now dead and the race is on to solve the mystery before any more end up on the mortuary slab.
Cathy has been reading Taken In Nuala by Harriet Steel.
A grand party is taking place at The Residence, hosted by the assistant government agent and Inspector Shanti de Silva’s superior, Archie Clutterbuck and his wife, Florence, raising funds for the orphanage and introducing their American guests, the Tankertons and their daughter, Phoebe. Inspector de Silva and his wife Jane join the list of invitees. Also staying at The Residence is Hank O’Halloran and his daughter Marie.
During the festivities Marie O’Halloran is kidnapped and the party comes to an abrupt halt. The guests are questioned before leaving, while de Silva makes it his business to discover how the perpetrator was able to gain access to the house, evade security measures and take Marie, seemingly so easily. He wondered why the kidnapper chose Marie. Both men were wealthy but Tankerton even more so, and would be able to pay a larger ransom. It was clear to de Silva there was more to this than meets the eye.
He was on his way back to the front of the Residence when he met Archie.
[‘Anything to report, de Silva?’ The assistant government agent looked weary. Darcy, the Labrador, at his master’s heels as usual, wagged his tail, but he too looked as if he longed for his bed.
‘Only that I’m fairly certain the kidnappers made their escape over the balcony, sir, and there were two of them.’]
De Silva has his work cut out with kidnappings and murder, a suspicious fortune teller and several trails to follow, ably assisted by Sergeant Prasanna and Constable Nadar. Insight from Jane is always welcome as well. Some surprise twists keep the plot moving along. As always, the wonderfully described setting of 1930’s Ceylon is detailed, capturing the sense of place and time, and the contrast between the cultures adds an extra layer to the stories. Shanti and Jane de Silva are well portrayed, engaging characters and work well together. I like how Jane fits in with the English side of society and also as the wife of a Sinhalese Police Inspector with perfect ease. De Silva adores his wife, loves his garden, good food and his car. He sometimes takes exception to interference in his work by his British superiors.
I enjoy return visits to Nuala, the de Silva’s calm and well ordered home life and beautiful garden. Not to mention the delicious sounding meals cook prepares. If only…
When an American millionaire and his glamorous daughter visit Nuala, the splendour they bring to the town’s high society is soon tragically tarnished by a vicious crime.
With many avenues of inquiry to follow, including the involvement of a mysterious fortune teller, Inspector de Silva will need all his resources to unravel the evidence and avert further disaster.
A gripping mystery with lots of twists and turns set in the colourful and fascinating world of 1930s Ceylon.
Cathy has been reading Passage From Nuala by Harriet Steel
Passage From Nuala takes Inspector Shanti de Silva and his wife Jane on a long awaited holiday. Jane wants to see the pyramids very much and they were both looking forward to a relaxing cruise to Egypt, taking in the Suez canal on their journey. Away from Nuala, de Silva was conscious of his and Jane’s ethnic differences and was prepared for the possibility of some disapproval towards their mixed marriage. His fears were mostly unfounded and the first couple of days passed peacefully.
Archie Clutterbuck’s superior, William Petrie and his wife, Lady Caroline, were fellow travellers on the Jewel of the East. De Silva and Jane found them genial company and more approachable than previously. The passengers were a mixed bunch, among them a self-important older lady, a recently engaged couple who seemed quite unsuited and a gossip columnist. The Petrie’s presence on the ship proves very fortuitous when a body is discovered.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, sir,’ the officer said solemnly. ‘I have a message for you from Mr William Petrie.’
De Silva took the envelope the officer held out to him and opened it; the note inside it read: My apologies for the interruption to your holiday, but your professional assistance is needed immediately.
Another intriguing and entertaining instalment in the Inspector de Silva mysteries which sees de Silva solving crime in a contained environment with the help of Jane and William Petrie. On an evocatively described ocean liner with several suspects, de Silva knows time is against him. He’s under pressure as the investigation isn’t making enough progress—if he doesn’t find the murderer before they next dock, the culprit could escape.
As always, the characters are engaging and the depiction of the era is very enjoyable. The plot is well constructed and unfolds with enough twists to keep me guessing. Jane is in evidence to a greater degree in this story and it was good to see more interaction than usual between the de Silva’s I also liked the fact that de Silva is, to some extent, out of his comfort zone.
Inspector de Silva and Jane embark on a cruise to Egypt to visit the pyramids, excited at the prospect of two weeks of sun, sea and relaxation. With Nuala, and de Silva’s duties as a police officer, far behind them, what can possibly spoil their plans? Then a writer is found dead in his cabin, suffocated by newspaper thrust down his throat. Once again, de Silva must swing into action. The Inspector de Silva Mysteriesis a colourful and absorbing series, spiced with humour. Set in Ceylon in the 1930s, it will appeal to fans of traditional and cozy mysteries.
Protagonist Isobella (Ella) Bridges is a young widow whose husband died in somewhat mysterious circumstances. Two years after his death, she returns to the little village where her family spent happy holidays and purchases the Yellow Cottage after visiting with its owner—who, Ella later discovers, had already been dead for seven months when they spoke. Her cottage predecessor leaves the young widow several mysteries to solve, including a ghost cat. Ella is a perfect example of her class—posh, casually prejudiced, and so supremely assured of her place in the world that she is perfectly willing to ignore fashion and custom when it suits her while unconsciously adhering to their dictates in almost every aspect of her life.
Wikipedia defines a cozy mystery as “…a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.” True to the definition, sex, profanity, and violence are “behind the door” and only gently referenced. Sleuth Ella is an amateur who gathers a posse of essential helpers—in this case the Police Commissioner, his chief medical examiner, and her own well-connected family.Having grown up in and around old houses, Ella accepts the ghosts with the same aplomb as she greets her quirky new neighbors. In the first book of the series, most of the action centers around London, so we also meet Ella’s brother Jerry and his wife Ginny, as well as Ginny’s “Uncle” Albert, Scotland Yard’s Police Commissioner. In the second book, we get to know more of her neighbors in the quintessentially English village setting.
One of the challenges with any ongoing series is to move the backstory forward by adding little unresolved threads, while still solving each book’s central mystery arc. For example, in A Clerical Error, the role of Mrs. Shaw, Ella’s somewhat mysterious housekeeper, is finally explained. But…
[spoiler-ish alert! If you haven’t read the first two books, you may want to skip the next paragraph…] At the end of Book 2, Ella is stunned to receive a call from John, the husband she believed was dead. In A Clerical Error, she is still, naturally, more than a bit upset about this. Without revealing too much, I have to admit I found this development and its resolution unsatisfying. While it did set up Ella’s distrust with authorities, also hinting at the global forces already moving to end the interlude between two World Wars, it was just so… off-screen, leaving me with a strong sense of “what was that about?” It wasn’t until Ella was deeply involved with the new ghosts she meets in A Clerical Error that I was able to step back and realize (or at least hope!) that John’s phone call is the setup to another ghost’s appearance.
Ella’s confusion and absorption with the shocking news about her “dead” husband makes it difficult for her to focus fully on the mysterious death of the local vicar. In her role as a consultant to Scotland Yard, she finds herself investigating the suspicious circumstances, forced to consider which of her new friends and neighbors might be the murderer in their midst.
The element that brings this series to a different level (at least for me) is that Ella sees ghosts, and even talks to them. Her cat, Phantom, is usually a ghost. Except (he’s a cat after all) when he’s not. Mixing the paranormal elements with the main mystery, and adding dessert toppings of secondary mysteries, puzzles, and mysteriously puzzling ghosts, keeps the story lively and makes the reader look forward to learning more about the characters (both living and dead). Still, even with the assistance of the occasional ghost, author J. New plays fair with her readers most of the time. If she delays in explaining a critical clue, I could usually forgive her if—as with the earlier books of the series—it sets up that most essential of cozy mystery tropes, the detective addressing the gathered suspects. Unfortunately, in this case the resolution and final confrontation with the murderer happens off-stage, reported third-hand and unwitnessed by Ella (or the reader).
With the minor exception of the third-person resolution, I still found that its setting and characters make A Clerical Error—as I said in my reviews of the earlier books—an enchanting example of a cozy mystery, a paranormal detective story, and a completely entertaining series in a historical setting. I am delighted to recommend A Clerical Error, and look forward to more adventures with Ella and her family.
When the crime scene is pure coincidence and there’s no evidence, how do you prove it was murder?
Ella Bridges faces her most challenging investigation so far when the vicar dies suddenly at the May Day Fete. But with evidence scarce and her personal life unravelling in ways she could never have imagined, she misses vital clues in the investigation.
Working alongside Sergeant Baxter of Scotland Yard, will Ella manage to unearth the clues needed to catch the killer before another life is lost? Or will personal shock cloud her mind and result in another tragedy?
‘A Clerical Error’ is set in 1930’s England, and is the third of The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series.
‘Miss Marple meets The Ghost Whisperer’ – Perfect For Fans of Golden Age Murder Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Clean Reads and British Amateur Sleuths
J. New is the British author of The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series. Set on the fictitious island of Linhay in the south of England during the 1930’s, they are an homage to the Golden Age mysteries but with a contemporary twist.