Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in April 2016 Part V

What I Read in April 2016 Part V . . .

Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize (Mrs. Jeffries, #34)Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize by Emily Brightwell--Victorian Mystery

Mrs. Helena Rayburn, Althea Stanway, Isabelle Martell, and Chloe Atwater are members of the Mayfair Orchid and Rare Plant Society. When the ladies are gathered for a meeting at Mrs. Rayburn's home, a dead body is discovered in the conservatory. The deceased - Hiram Filmore - was an exotic plant dealer supplying Mrs. Rayburn with her orchids. She denies inviting him to her home or ordering anything from him recently but someone let him in to the conservatory and killed him. The clues point to Mrs. Rayburn but Inspector Witherspoon isn't so sure. The ladies all knew each other back in Indian years ago and as the investigation continues, secrets from that time are revealed. Inspector Witherspoon is deliberately asked to investigate and given all the help he wants to solve the case. Someone higher up has taken an interest in the case. Who could it be and why? Mrs. Jeffries and the downstairs family are eager to help their dear Inspector solve the case again, with Luty Belle, Hatchet and Lady Canonberry, of course.

The writing in this series has come a long way since the early books. The historical details are woven into the story almost seamlessly. There are two references - horseless carriages and telephones- that seemed a little tiny bit forced but nothing like the early books. I appreciate the author's ability to improve her writing and I greatly admire her ability to come up with NEW mysteries every single time! This one has a lot of layers. There are lies, secrets and old hatreds that are dug up before the case can be solved. I guessed who but I guessed wrong until the clues were revealed. The clues were dropped pretty early in the investigation but I still wasn't sure and I didn't guess why. I had to put the book down and go to sleep and finish when I woke up early.

The characters have evolved along with the writing. Most of them have stagnated. Phyllis has evolved from a timid girl to a self-assured young woman. Inspector Witherspoon has come into his own. He solved this one mostly on his own with a bit of help from Constable Barnes via Mrs. Jeffries. He would have gotten there eventually. Luty Belle didn't have much to do here. She uttered "Nell's Belles" only once towards the end. The new characters includes the four ladies mentioned above. None of them are likeable or sympathetic characters. The murderer is mentally unbalanced. The Inspector doesn't think so but it seemed that way to me. The motive was completely stupid and the means were devious and evil. I think that someone wealthy and powerful who committed murder would be declared insane and spared hanging.

This was another good entry into the series. It mentions brief hints of what happened last time and reveals Smythe's former secret so I wouldn't start here but it does stand alone if you haven't read any others.

The Baker's Daughter

The Baker's Daughter by D.E. Stevenson

Sue Pringle is the baker's daughter of the title. Her mother was the spoiled only daughter of the grocer in their small Scottish lowlands village. She was a beautiful dreamer who could have had any man in the village and she chose the baker, Will Pringle. Will is a dour, stern man who doesn't understand his children. Sue is eminently practical like her father. She was content to keep house for him after her mother died but longs for independence now her father has remarried. When the Darnays, a wealthy city couple, move to the old grist mill, Mrs. Darnay hires Sue to be housekeeper and then promptly runs off with her French maid. Sue elects to stay on with Mr. Darnay. He's a dreamy artist who has left off his popular painting style in favor of a new one. Without Sue to take care of him, he'll starve. John fits in with the locals and is kind to Sue's troubled younger brothrer Sandy. Then the world intrudes on their idyllic time and John disappears without a trace. Sue despairs of ever seeing him again but she's a practical Scots woman and knows how to get what she wants.

This is a mild, pleasant sort of book. There's no real action or any kind of plot to drive the story until the last few chapters. The story is a relic of a simpler time between the world wars. I liked Sue and I could relate to her practical nature but I felt she was a little too self-sacrificing. She is also very naive and innocent. There's not much to her character but I especially liked her in the last few chapters. She improved greatly there. John is a complex character without much to do in the story except paint. One wonders about his back story. He reveals a few hints here and there. He's a passionate artist who is true to his art.

It's the secondary characters that round out the story. Sue's grandparents are so sweet and loving. They seem devoted to each other and to their family. I didn't like how her grandfather was pushing her to marry his assistant but it's only natural for him to want to keep the business in the family and when his daughter didn't choose the man he would have chosen, he feels like he gets a do-over with his granddaughter. I loved the curling scene where we meet "good old Bill" and some of the other men. That scene was so descriptive and the characters so appealing that I wanted more of them. That scene and the characters reminded me a bit of the TV series Road to Avonlea though the story is set 20 years later.

This isn't Stevenson's best novel but it's not bad. It's a good read for a rainy or snowy day with a cup of tea and a scone.

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