It is time for a Christmas mystery. I always try to include a few in my reading at the end of the year. As usual in a mystery novel, the occurrence of Christmas and the Christmas events are incidental to the mystery itself. However, this one starts before Christmas and continues up to New Year's Day, and includes plenty of festivities, so it definitely fits the bill.
In this novel, Meredith Mitchell has moved to a small cottage in a community known as Pook's Common, near to Bamford (a fictional town in the Cotswolds) . She has just returned to Britain from her stint as the British consul of Yugoslavia. After the Christmas holidays she will be starting a home posting in London, following years when she was assigned abroad. Coming into this area, she knows only Chief Inspector Alan Markby, who she met in the previous book in this series when she was visiting family in another town in the area.
According to my copy of this book, Mystery News described the first book in this series as "a solid contemporary English village mystery with good characterization of both people and place." I agree, this is a fine cozy-ish mystery which had police procedural elements due to the presence of Markby but also the elements of an amateur investigator, Meredith, who has more insights into the individuals in the community. Meredith is new to the community but it is a small area and she has gotten acquainted with a few of the inhabitants. Of course, contemporary when the review at Mystery News was written was 1991, and this is a much more traditional mystery than many written nowadays, and is lacking the plethora of technological marvels that are so evident in today's novels. Since I could do without the prominence of those elements anyway, this was appealing to me.
The characters are both the strength and the weakness of this novel (and the series?). It is nice to read a book featuring a woman protagonist with an important, established career having problems with commitment to relationship... instead of the other way around. From my own point of view, I don't like much romance in mysteries and I get irritated with romances that go nowhere. However, as one reviewer says, you can enjoy the mystery without paying much attention to the relationship between the two protagonists.
The two main characters are interesting. Meredith is in her mid-thirties, and Alan Markby is in his early forties. They are attracted to each other but often interact in antagonistic ways. Meredith is not especially likable at times. This is a not a thriller, no one is put seriously at risk, even though Meredith is living in a very isolated lane with few neighbors. Yet the characters are not syrupy sweet and the relationships seem realistic. Sometimes the relationship between Meredith and Alan Markby is maddening, but never boring. Returning to the Christmas theme, I enjoyed the family scene where Inspector Markby's sister is coercing Markby into joining into her family's Christmas dinner and bringing Meredith along.
Ann Granger wrote 15 novels in this series between 1991 and 2004. She has three other series: the Fran Varady series, which starts out with the heroine jobless and nearly homeless; a Victorian crime series set in the heart of London starring Lizzie Martin, companion to a wealthy widow; and her most recent series, the Campbell and Carter Mysteries, also set in the Cotswolds. Prior to writing mystery novels, the author worked in British Embassies in various parts of the world. As did her husband, whom she met while working in Prague.
Publisher: Avon, 1993 (orig. pub. 1991)
Length: 247 pages
Series: Meredith and Markby #2
Setting: The Cotswolds, UK
Source: Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2006.