My thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
The Bookshop Murder is the first in the Flora Steele series of cosy mysteries set in 1950s England. In the book, we meet Flora Steele, a twenty-five-year old, who has inherited a bookshop, the All’s Well, and a cottage from her aunt, Violet, in Abbeymead, Sussex. Flora lost her parents early and was more or less brought up by Violet (after a brief period with her parents’ friends). Now, at a time just a few years after the war, things are difficult for the shop, and Flora’s dreams of travelling the world (or at least some of it) have to be put on hold.
Out delivering books in the village one evening, Flora is nearly run over by a speeding red sports car—one let out to guests at the Priory, once the manor house, now a hotel run by a Vernon Elliot who has purchased it. The driver’s fair hair is all she notices. But that is what helps her identify him when his body is found in her own bookshop the next morning by reclusive author J.A. ‘Jack’ Carrington who lives in the village (he is only in the shop because the boy who usually runs his errands is home sick).
The police are called in but quickly dismiss the matter as a natural death; they are also not much bothered by the fact that the young man, Kevin Anderson, seemed to have broken into Flora’s shop just before he died, for nothing was taken, after all. But Flora is not entirely convinced, for there was no reason why a twenty-one-year-old, healthy young man should die that way. Letting the matter alone doesn’t help her for rumours soon begin to spread around the village of ghosts and ill presences in her shop and what little custom she had begins to disappear entirely. She realises that unless she can prove that this was the work of a human hand, she might well lose her business. She convinces Jack Carrington to join in and the two begin to investigate.
They find precious little to work with. Kevin was a relation of the man who inherited the Priory from the owner, Lord Templeton, and who had sold it to Vernon Elliot. His stay at the expensive Priory seems to have been sponsored by his relative and all of it relates to a legend surrounding the house. While Flora and Jack feel this screams ‘Enid Blyton’, they still attempt to look into it, talking to older staff still working at the Priory or living in the village. Even though they find little, they are attacked and another death takes place, once again appearing to be a natural one. Is there any truth behind the legend? Will Flora and Jack get to the bottom of the mystery?
This was a quick, pleasant read for me and was good fun even though it wasn’t one that blew me away so to speak.
The mystery, while it didn’t have many twists and turns, was an interesting enough one (the murder weapon, in particular), and while the legend did have that Enid Blyton touch (as the characters themselves note), it was done nicely enough with a basis in books—a riddle to solve, certainly but no complicated codes and ciphers which one usually finds when old books are involved.
The police’s attitude did surprise me though since it felt like they were much too eager to brush their hands of the whole matter and dismiss it as a natural death even though the evidence was far from clear cut. And would they really dismiss a break-in, when the possible culprit is found dead, however natural it appears? That one seemed a little hard to digest.
I had actually requested the book because of its setting in the 1950s and the author has included elements–from references to music to the shadows of the war, and the difficulties people were living through at the time. But the language in the conversations felt at times a little too modern-day.
The two main characters were quite likeable even though Flora does act a little too recklessly at times, and I wouldn’t mind seeing what they got up to next.
3.25 stars from me.