Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Season for Murder: Ann Granger

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.

Say It with Poison (1991) was Ann Granger's first mystery novel and the first book featuring Meredith Mitchell and Alan Markby. A Season for Murder was published in the same year. My copy indicates that this is a Meredith and Markby Mystery, but I have seen it called the Mitchell and Markby Village series also.

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.

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Publisher:   Avon, 1993 (orig. pub. 1991)
Length:       247 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Meredith and Markby #2
Setting:      The Cotswolds, UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2006.

18 comments:

  1. TracyK: I cannot recall the last time I read a Christmas mystery. A Season for Murder sounds like the equivalent of mid-winter beach read.

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    1. It is interesting, Bill, Christmas is far from my favorite holiday but I love Christmas carols and novels set at Christmas. Not necessarily those written especially as Christmas book, but ones that fit within a series and occur around that time.

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  2. I have probably heard of the author but that's about it. I doubt I will try her Tracy. Glad to see you sneaked a skull onto your cover photo!

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    1. This author and her books are definitely too tame for you, Col, from what I have read. And yes, I love that skull on the cover.

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  3. Good suggestion for my 2015 'get into Christmas Spirit' reading list!

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    1. If you try it, Nancy, I hope you like it. A good traditional mystery.

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  4. I'm not a great 'cosy' mystery fan but I think that's what I want out of a Christmas mystery. I like Agatha Christie's 'Hercule Poirot's Christmas' and I have just downloaded Helen Smith's Real Elves as this looks great fun.

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    1. In general, I don't lean towards the cozy mystery type either, but it does seem that most Christmas themed stories are cozy. None of the Christmas mysteries I have read in the past two years were purchased for the Christmas theme though, so I must have leaned a bit toward cozy in the past. Tastes change, I guess.

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  5. Tracy - This one sounds like a nice, light sort of holiday mystery. I agree with you that even lighter mysteries are best if they're not syrupy-sweet, so it's good to hear that this one doesn't cross that line.

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    1. Definitely not too syrup-y, but doesn't stray into thriller territory either, Margot.

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  6. Tracy, I have not yet lined up a Christmas story or novel to read this season but I'll think of something over the next few days. Ann Granger's diplomatic postings in various parts of the world must have given her plenty of fodder for her novels. There's nothing like travel to broaden the mind.

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    1. Very true, Prashant. The mix of a career diplomat in a relationship of sorts with a police inspector is interesting here.

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  7. I am not one much for cosy mysteries because I usually find either the plot a bit of a letdown or the characters a bit annoying but that is a massive generalisation and the fact remains that I always like the idea of them! Must try harder ...

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    1. I think you have expressed my reservations about cozy mysteries very well, Sergio. But some are very well done. The problem is you have to try them to find out. I have some recommendations for some good current cozy series that I am going to try... to broaden my horizons.

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  8. I checked, and I have read a couple of her books but not this one. I think I might give it a go, I do like to read a Christmas mystery at this time of the year.

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    1. Would be interested to know what you think of it, Moira. At one time I was trying to find a copy of the first Fran Varady series, sounded a little less cozy. Never ran into one. I do have the first in the historical mystery series with the companion and will try that soonish.

      I found that one of the Christmas mysteries I was planning to read is actually a New Year's mystery, but it is getting later in December so that may be perfect.

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  9. I love Christmas mysteries, but I'm not sure this would be a good fit for me. I seem to be in a odd reading rut right now though, so maybe next year.

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    1. If you ever decide to try it, I hope you do like it. I really had been planning to read this as a continuation of the series anyway, it just fit perfectly into Christmas reading. I don't usually read the ones that are just written especially for Christmas. Someday I should try one.

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