Monday, August 25, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. MallietBuy from Amazon.com

Death of a Cozy Writer by
A St. Just Mystery

Midnight Ink (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-7387-1248-5 (0738712485)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7387-1248-2 (9780738712482)
Publication Date: July 2008
List Price: $13.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): From deep in the heart of his eighteenth century English manor, millionaire Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk writes mystery novels and torments his four spoiled children with threats of disinheritance. Tiring of this device, the portly patriarch decides to weave a malicious twist into his well-worn plot. Gathering them all together for a family dinner, he announces his latest blow — a secret elopement with the beautiful Violet ... who was once suspected of murdering her husband.

Within hours, eldest son and appointed heir Ruthven is found cleaved to death by a medieval mace. Since Ruthven is generally hated, no one seems too surprised or upset — least of all his cold-blooded wife Lillian. When Detective Chief Inspector St. Just is brought in to investigate, he meets with a deadly calm that goes beyond the usual English reserve. And soon Sir Adrian himself is found slumped over his writing desk — an ornate knife thrust into his heart. Trapped amid leering gargoyles and concrete walls, every member of the family is a likely suspect. Using a little Cornish brusqueness and brawn, can St. Just find the killer before the next-in-line to the family fortune ends up dead?

Review: G. M. Malliet introduces Cornish Detective Chief Inspector St. Just and Detective Sergeant Fear (an interesting play on names here!) in Death of a Cozy Writer, a stylish English country house mystery.

The cozy writer is Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk, the wealthy author of a series of bestselling mysteries, who delights in tormenting his four adult children, and to a lesser extent, his ex-wife, by changing his will frequently, sometimes cutting one out, sometimes leaving everything to another. His latest scheme: announcing his intent to remarry and watching the family trip over themselves to stop the wedding. Or as his housekeeper puts it, "What Sir Adrian has planned is not a wedding, but the fireworks." When the family convenes at Adrian's country estate to "celebrate" the upcoming nuptials, they're surprised to find Adrian has added a twist to the story: he's already married. And here's another surprise: she was once accused of murdering her first husband. What no one planned on, least of all Adrian, was the brutal murder of his eldest son Ruthven, found in the wine cellar with his head bashed in. Nor was Adrian planning on being murdered himself, a knife thrust deep into his chest. With a fresh blanket of snow surrounding the house confirming no one had entered or left, DCI St. Just and DS Fear know someone in the house is a murderer.

Death of a Cozy Writer is, in many ways, a study of contrasts. The author borrows heavily from Agatha Christie, usually to great and amusing effect. Consider Adrian's amateur sleuth, Miss Rampling of Saint Edmund-Under-Stowe. That it is similar to Miss Marple of St. Mary Mead is no coincidence. Other knowing references are made throughout. For example, at one point Adrian tells St. Just of a storyline in one of his books where all the passengers on a train participate in the murder of another. St. Just says, "But, Sir Adrian ... Surely Dame Agatha thought of that first." Adrian's retort: "Of course she did. But my book was better."

The pace of the narrative is leisurely at best. It takes well over 100 pages until Ruthven is murdered, and another 50 or so until the title character meets the same fate. At times it's like watching an extended game of Clue with Agatha Christie characters as the players. Readers will get the sense that in the end, St. Just will anticlimactically declare that the killer was Colonel Mustard with the wrench in the library and be done with it.

But suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, the plot takes a decidedly interesting turn, shedding much of the superficiality of the setup to become an intriguing and intricate mystery. In the beginning, Death of a Cozy Writer will entertain readers with its characters, setting, and board game-like features, but in the end will captivate them with a compelling denouement in a familiar gathering of the suspects in the drawing room.

Special thanks to Midnight Ink for providing a copy of Death of a Cozy Writer for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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