#MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them in this feature too!
Chimneys, a stately home, the seat of the Marquis of Caterham appears in two Agatha Christie thriller-mysteries (The Secret of Chimneys, and The Seven Dials Mystery) , which are light-hearted and fun. While Caterham himself is a bit like Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth, it seems the house, before his time (when his brother was the Marquis, and also the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs), was the site of many political dealings all in the guise of informal house parties, which the current Caterham is reluctant to continue with but often is badgered into doing. The mysteries themselves are mysteries ‘proper’ but there are thriller elements in both these, especially the second book which can tend to be slightly ‘silly’ for want of better word. Anyway, the reason I’m bringing up Chimneys is that both the books I’m talking about in this #MurderousMondays post are set in somewhat similar country houses, and with a broadly similar plot. In fact both these have very similar plots through the details differ enough to make them different reads.
Murder at Maypole Manor is the third in the Posie Parker series of books by author L.B. Hathaway (I’ve talked about this one in a Shelf Control post earlier-here) which I read around the end of December, while The Incident at Five’s Castle is the fifth in the Angela Marchmont series of books by Clara Benson (I in fact reviewed book 4 in a previous #MurderousMondays post here), and was the first book I finished this year (er, decade?). Both books are set in 1920s England, and at Maypole Manor, and Fives Castle (in Scotland) respectively where the New Year’s Party is providing cover for important political dealings.
In Maypole Manor, the New Year Party is being thrown by a famous (now retired) adventurer, Lord Robin Glayslayer, but the party is entirely a front for the handover of some secret documents, as while Lord Glayslayer himself has no political linkages, he has agreed to help the government by replacing all but a handful of his guests by various undercover government agents. In this list are Inspector Lovelace of Scotland Yard, who brings with him undercover, Posie Parker (and her dog). Of course, there is a snow storm and the house is cut off entirely, and not only does the handover not go as smoothly as planned, a murderer or murderers too strike as two deaths occur in quick succession. Posie investigates. Meanwhile there are other subplots like Lord Glayslayer’s will, a smuggling racket, and also a continuing plot (from previous books) of Posie being pursued by an arch villain who wishes to marry her.
In the Incident at Fives Castle, the setting is somewhat similar. This one picks up somewhat from the previous book where we met the young (also somewhat Wodehousian) reporter Freddy Pilkington-Soames, and one of his set Gertie, the daughter of the Earl of Strathmerrick. Gertie has taken a liking to Angela and invites her to the Hogmanay celebrations at Fives, where once again, many of the guests are political and diplomatic bigwigs. Of course, these aren’t replacements for any ‘original’ guests, but once again, the party is to serve as cover for the handover of important documents, this time to do with atomic science. As expected, there is a snow storm, and the house is cut off, while the scientist who was expected to arrive for the party has gone missing. Soon enough, he turns up, but naturally, dead. Angela and Freddy are the only guests not on the original list, and so naturally become the primary suspects, and so must solve it all.
The subplots in both books are of course very different as are the characters and the general tone. Both have a touch of humour certainly. But while the mystery element in Maypole Manor (this is the first book in the series that I am reading) is a ‘proper’ one, it does have that feel of a parody, something on the lines of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries (again, I’ve read only one of those), complete with an ‘archvillain’ and such, though unlike in Amelia Peabody, he isn’t actually called that. And as I mentioned, there is a subplot with hidden passages, smugglers, secret messages, and impostors galore. There was a little twist involving the dog which was cute. Still it was a fun read and apt for the time of the year since I read it around New Year’s eve.
Five’s Castle on the other hand, doesn’t have those exaggerated elements but there is some element of humour with among other things, characters like Freddy Pilkington-Soames, who as I’d mentioned in my review of Gypsy’s Mile is a version of Freddie Threepwood, though with brains; Gertie too is inspired by Wodehousian characters (though I guess those aspects stood out somewhat more in the previous book). The mystery is a proper one, but the solution was very like The Secret at Chimneys to my mind. The side plots had of course elements of politics of the time, suspicious political societies, but also a spot of blackmail (in which I got Sherlock Holmes vibes). But I overall enjoyed this one too as I have the rest of the books in this series. Even when the mysteries can be guessed–in some of the books I’ve read so far in this series–I still find them pleasant, engaging and fast-paced reads. Angela’s past, her service during the war, etc., are brought up in this one too, with a few more details, but that mystery continues to remain one, which perhaps may be revealed bit by bit.
Have you read either of these books? How did you like them? Or any others in similar settings or with a similar plotlines? Which ones and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!