Sunday, March 9, 2014

What I Read Last Week Part II

What I Read Last Week Part II . . .

Mrs. Jeffries Forges AheadMrs. Jeffries Forges Ahead by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Lady Cannonberry is invited to attend a party at the home of someone she doesn't know very well but thinks could be a good friend. Arlette Montrose Banfield is married to a wealthy businessman of an old family but she's also the daughter of artists and a good businesswoman. She and Ruth seem to have much in common, which is why it comes as a huge shock when Arlette drops dead at her party. The doctor claims no young woman drops dead of natural causes and all signs lead to cyanide poisoning. Knowing her Inspector's methods well, Lady Cannonberry tries to keep the crime scene from being destroyed without much luck. Lewis Banfield's Aunt Geraldine doesn't wish to have the family's honor so polluted by something like a police investigation and some of the evidence disappears. Then Inspector Witherspoon is on the case. Mrs. Jeffries and the servants are on the hunt too. What to do about the new maid Phyllis? Can they keep her in the dark and if not, will she tell the Inspector what they're up to? The staff forges ahead with the investigation and at the same time Inspector Witherspoon and Constable Barnes conduct their own investigation to find out who wanted Arlette dead. They butt heads with the aristocratic Mrs. Banfield the elder and her two catty friends. None of them liked Arlette very much. They considered the younger woman beneath them for being an artist's model and businesswoman. A lady had no business being involved in her husband's business affairs and a lady never works and especially not as a model! Will the wrong person hang because the evidence is weak? Will the Inspector solve the mystery or will a clever killer get away?

This is a mediocre mystery. I figured it out right away. It was perfectly obvious who and how and I thought why was obvious too but the why turned out to be a bit more complicated. There were only three suspects and evidence pointed to all three together or individually. I stuck to my original suspect. The clues were all there pretty early on and incredibly obvious. Much of the plot is taken up with political and philosophical discussion. I found that a bit tedious and out of place. We know Lady Cannonberry is a radical and we know the older generation tend to be old-fashioned and very strict about the "natural order of things." It didn't need to be repeated again and again. The murder of a young woman in the prime of her life disgusted me. That's my second least favorite victim behind mistaken identity or accidental killing. It's really horrible to think that someone would do something like that and feel perfectly justified. Sometimes when the mystery is bland the family life plot keeps me more interested. This time there wasn't much of the personal going on in the story. Smythe and Betsy are awaiting the arrival of their baby and finally stopped bickering. There's only a bit about new new maid and where she fits into things. As usual Luty provides a few laughs but she didn't have much to do in this book. Even Wiggins only had a minimal amount of page time though he has the most luck. Lady Cannonberry is the main character in this novel. The Inspector has as much, if not more, information than his staff. It seems like now he's capable of doing his job with a little bit of help but the staff and his friends all want to solve the mystery before him. I don't like that type of competition. Let the man do his job and then give him a nudge when he needs it. It seems now that Constable Barnes is in on the secret, it's easier to point the Inspector in the right direction, but it's also more boring. Even though this wasn't the best story, it still kept me up too late and awake way too early racing through it to find out if I was right about the killer and how they figured it out. 

Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-UpMrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-Up by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Daniel McCourt, an Asian art collector, has been murdered by one of his own swords. The murder occurred just after a tea party where he planned to show off his most recent acquisition. A fire in the servants hall broke up the party early and no one else was in the house when Mr. McCourt was killed. Who would hate him enough to kill him? Was it his formerly meek wife; his cousin, also an art collector; his other cousin who feels cheated out of his inheritance; his appraiser who may be a fraud; a spurned lover; or a pair of would-be lovers in need of money? Inspector Witherspoon has his hands full with this case and as usual, the Home Office wants it solved by Christmas. All poor Witherspoon wants to do is enjoy the Season now he has a goddaughter and a family to spend it with. In the kitchen at Upper Edmonton Gardens, the staff are delighted with Betsy and Smythe's new baby daughter, Amanda Belle. When they get the news they have a murder, their feelings are torn. They were bored but it's Christmas and they want to spend it with Amanda. Betsy feels motherhood is more important than being on the hunt and she's content to stay home with the baby and let Phyllis do her job.l Phyllis is nervous she won't be able to gather any clues. She fears she's worthless and stupid. It's up to Mrs. Jeffries and the rest of the "family" to boost her spirits.

This story is more vintage Mrs. Jeffries style than the last. The murder happens right on the first page and since the victim was an upper class gentlemen, the servants fear for their jobs and are more willing to gossip with Wiggins and Phyllis than talk to the police. The others tap into their network of informants and Mrs. J had to try to feed the information to the Inspector. There were so many suspects, it was difficult to figure out the mystery. I thought I knew who the murderer was, but I was wrong. The clues aren't very obvious. The ending was exciting. I find it hard to believe anybody would act like that though. The motive was very stupid. What this books lacks is the warmth of the "family." There's a little bit of the family in this book, especially as they welcome Amanda into the family. Yet, there's not as much as in previous books. I'm glad Betsy and Smythe stopped arguing but then again it takes some of the fun out of the book. I liked seeing Phyllis adjust and how they tried to help her. There's a discussion on the moral and ethical definition of murder that takes up too much plot time. I don't need to be preached to. I understand the way people thought back then. It's obvious from the character's actions and dialogue.

The murder is rather grisly. Sensitive readers skip that part and the part where the Inspector views the corpse.

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