murder in the mystery suite

Title: Murder in the Mystery Suite

Author: Ellery Adams

Series: Book Retreat Mysteries

Sleuth: Jane Steward

Children: twin six-year-old boys named Fitzgerald and Hemingway

Setting: Storyton Hall, in Storyton Village, a “little village” in rural western Virginia

Improbable Local Businesses: I’m not going to list things like the pharmacy or the hair salon (which even small villages might have); I’m only listing the peculiar tourist-dependent shops crowding this “little village.” Aside from the 50-bedroom resort, Storyton Hall, there’s La Grande Dame (Mabel Wimberly’s seamstress shop), Geppetto’s toy shop, the Run for Cover Book Shop, The Cheshire Cat (the local pub), the Pickled Pig (a market) , the Canvas Creamery (an art gallery and frozen custard shop), and Loafing Around (a sandwich shop). I suppose those all could exist, but somehow…well, let’s just say I continue to be amazed by economics as they exist in cozy mysteries.

Animal: Muffet Cat

Are you feeling as though you’ve already exceeded the maximum daily adult dose of twee? You aren’t alone. I haven’t even gotten to the staff (Butterworth, Pimpernel, Sterling, Mrs. Hubbard…).

I’m sure this book has a devoted following, and I’d confidently recommend it to any BBC-loving American who has never met an actual English person. Real live British people, however, should probably steer clear:

“The British have such impeccable manners,” Jane said, clicking her tongue. “And yet, Desmond sounds rude. In fact, he sounds like an utter cad.” (p. 136)

Jane, honey, I hate to break it to you, but if the British were uniformly polite they wouldn’t have had to come up with the phrase “an utter cad.” Alas, Jane, “his mother was a Brit” is not enough to make your suspect behave.

Jane, you might have noticed, is not the brightest or most believable heroine even by cosy mystery standards. I suspect the author must have overdosed on The Librarian, because in chapter seven Jane finds out she’s the latest in a long line of people assigned to protect a secret library (of things like unknown Shakespeare plays). No, really, that happens. And now that she knows the secret and has the key, she’s supposed to get a secret tattoo and start training.

“First, you must train. Your body and mind must be honed like a sword. We’ll begin with fencing and martial arts classes. Sterling will teach you weaponry, and when Gavin recovers from his knee surgery, he and his successor will work with you on hunting, tracking, and survival techniques.” (p. 105)

You know, since this is an inherited responsibility, you’d think Jane would have been in training since childhood, or at least since such time as it looked like she’d have to assume the role. Instead they’re starting now, in her mid-thirties. Okay, sure, whatever.

At least finding out half her staff are former Navy Seals and CIA and whatever should help with the cosy mystery part of the book, right? No, wrong, because even though two people have turned up dead (one after a horse chase through Storyton village, no less), Jane’s reaction to seeing a dangerous looking stranger board the elevator is to go have a long conversation with her friend, instead of informing anyone else of her suspicions. Swell.

Speaking of her friends…do normal people in rural Virginia talk like this?

“Are you quite muddled yet?” (p. 2)

“If this event is to be a success, then the whole village will have to be involved in some way or another.” (p. 22)

“No,” Doc Lydgate replied. “It was fastened in a complex knot at the nape of her neck.” (p. 31)

“I transported all the purple and blue arrangements. Aren’t these freesias exquisite?” (p. 113)

“Desmond Price has come to Storyton with a purpose. And if you ask me, it’s a nefarious one.” (138)

I’ve never been to rural Virginia, so for all I know, people there really talk like this. I have my doubts, though. If my friends and I were throwing around phrases like “nefarious purpose,” it would mean we were really drunk and had been binge-watching Masterpiece Theatre.

I expected to really like this book. I enjoy the usual level of cosy mystery improbability, and books centred around books usually please me. But even leaving aside the ghastly secret library thing, the book managed to annoy me. The mystery-themed hotel event could have worked, but then we hit this:

“Violet was an adult-sized Nancy Drew. Mabel had done a wonderful job with everyone’s costume, but the Nancy Drew was Jane’s favorite. It called to mind a vintage prom dress and was made of lavender tulle. Most women would have looked ridiculous in such a getup, but the dress showed off Violet’s curves, turning the traditional schoolgirl sleuth image on its head.” (pp. 125-6)

I just….what now? She’s come as Nancy Drew by dressing as something that doesn’t remind you of Nancy Drew? What?

I mean, you could put someone in a ballgown and cite any one of MANY Nancy Drew novels in which Nancy went to a dance, if you wanted to. But no, why reference an actual book when you can just thump in a curvy adult Nancy Drew in a tulle prom dress.

Okay, but APART from the entire secret library thing, the dangerous levels of “whimsy,” and the stilted self-consciously bookish conversations, the mystery itself was good. The murder, the stolen book, the dead lady on the horse: all of that wrapped up well. Even the possible love interest was tolerable, if you don’t mind brusque Darcy clones galloping (literally) into the plot for no other reason than to be a love interest.

I think I am going to have to read the next book in the series, from morbid curiousity if nothing else.