My thanks to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for a review copy of this one.
After not really requesting books from NetGalley for a bit (so as to tackle by own TBR pile), last month I came across a handful that sounded so interesting and I ended up requesting. One of these was this one–Murder at the Village Fete. This one, a cosy mystery set in the 1920s, was described as Downton Abbey crossed with Murder She Wrote.
This is the second in a series, The Tommy and Evelyn Christie Mysteries. Tommy Christie, formerly a policeman is now Lord Northmoor having inherited the title unexpectedly in the previous book. His wife, Evelyn had also served in the police. In this one, the couple—who are still adjusting to their new life and roles—have been convinced by Evelyn’s sister, Millicent, to host the local fete at Hessleham Hall, while her father, a former MP has asked them to invite some of his close friends and former colleagues to stay. Most of the guests are trying with endless demands and complaints, causing much annoyance to both the staff and Evelyn. Among the guests staying with the Christies is the current local MP Robert Billingham, who is to open the fete. But on the morning of the fete, as Evelyn and Tommy are walking her Gordon Setters, Nancy and Davey, they come upon Billingham lying face down in the stream with a knife in his back! The case is entrusted to Detective Inspector Andrews, but Tommy and Evelyn soon realise that for their guests’ safety, they must themselves step in and find the murderer.
For starters, even though this was the second in the series, this was not a hard one to get into; one gets a general idea of the events that unfolded in book 1 and it’s easy to pick up the threads again. We learn a little about the simpler lives Tommy and Evelyn lived before he came into the title, the struggles they are having adjusting, but also how they are using the opportunities that this brings to do well by people. Both Tommy and Evelyn are very likeable characters, as is the mischievous Auntie Em (Emily, Tommy’s aunt), who isn’t shy of speaking her mind.
The theme around which this mystery is centred is corruption in arms/ammunition supplies during the war which resulted in many soldiers losing their lives. Tommy is deeply affected by this since he had served in the war and is carrying wounds from the time. There are numerous suspects including even possibly Evelyn’s father, but certainly all the guests he has invited to Tommy and Evelyn’s for they were all serving in key positions at the time. And they have all received letters of blackmail about the incident. Besides the four, the beautiful new schoolteacher, Isolde Newley seems to be hiding something, while a young reporter, Ernest Franklin is also snooping around.
The mystery itself as a result has a few threads and with all of the main suspects having a stake in the corruption scandal, one is not quite sure which of them did it, or whether the blackmailer had more of a motive than blackmail itself. And then of course, there is another death as well, complicating matters. The Detective Inspector seems out of his depth (as is expected in such books) and it is Tommy and Evelyn who do much of the investigating.
The author also uses the story to explore relationships—highlighting Tommy and Evelyn’s comfortable and loving relationship where each has complete trust in the other; and give the other the chance to live their life fully, and so the things that make them happy (including Evelyn’s regular visits to the kitchen and doing some baking there). Some of the others we see are not as lucky. Alongside we also have a possible romance thread with Isolde Newley being somewhat interested in the attractive, but reticent local doctor, Dr. Mainwaring.
While this was a light and fun enough read, there were also some aspects that didn’t work for me. For one, while the murder was supposed to be at the village fete according to the title, we barely see any of the actual fete—I mean it is mentioned and some events happen, but nothing significant; even the murder has taken place before the actual fete, so the fete seems lost in all of this.
Then in the mystery, for one I felt, the murder itself happened far too soon, before we even really got to know the guests. There wasn’t even a chance to guess who the victim might be, it simply happens. Then in the investigation, in some of the conversations Tommy and Evelyn have with various people, they seem to approach them far too directly, rather than more tactfully, if that makes sense—you can’t exactly expect anyone to just come out and admit they were involved, after all. And one suspect Tommy just pronounces as innocent without giving a convincing enough reason (in fact, any reason) for doing so (that makes one begin to doubt his skills as a detective).
The other issue I had was with the writing itself; to me at times it felt (especially in some of the dialogue) far too modern for the time period in which it is set; for instance, Tommy using the expression ‘meet up’; also there were other instances where it just didn’t seem like people would speak that way/use those expressions, so it felt a bit off.
All in all while this had a promising setting and plot, it turned out just an okay read.