‘There is nothing so greedy as the grave’ reads the strapline. This novel grabbed me on the first page and held my attention all the way through. (OK, I’m a glutton for cosy crime.)
What makes a good cosy crime novel? Good atmosphere, good plot and distinct and well-defined characters – in that order. Apart from her detectives, which appeared repeatedly, Agatha Christie always faltered at the ‘well-defined characters’ point, although she mostly made you like the murderer. Hilary Creed, on the other hand, got me wishing and hoping, that one particular character would be dispatched. And so he/she (no spoilers here!) was.
Dame Emily Hatherley-Browne has recently, very reluctantly, had to sell Seascape House, her family home, an Elizabethan mansion on Beachy Head, Sussex, to bombastic James Wedderburn, of Wedderburn’s Pork Sausage Company. Emily has just moved into the Lodge, but, as the electricity isn’t properly installed, she has been invited to take her meals in the main house. (Do you already see conflict? Yes, I do. Brilliant.)
In classic cosy crime fashion, we meet James’s family as they travel to Sussex, to see his new acquisition: his wife; his son and wife; his daughter and husband; his brother. Later, we meet the staff, secretary Martin, lawyer George, housekeeper Stella, gym supervisor Ian, cook Grace and her granddaughter assistant Jayne. Although all family members played an active part in the story, the story concentrated on brother Edward and daughter-in-law Samantha; other family members were shadowy. The staff were more distinct and had better documented histories. However, the person we get to know better and better as the novel progresses is the dead man/woman.
Of course, what happened could’ve been an accident, or, bearing in mind that we’re at Beachy Head, suicide. This is one of the conundrums. And, if it was murder – something the family struggle with – how did the murderer manage to move the body to the cliff at Beachy Head, so as to be able to throw it on to the beach? Moreover, how did the murderer manage to move the body silently? And, of course, there’s a will, and an unexpected beneficiary. Cosy crime genre novels should ask many questions and this one did.
Dame Emily, a not-so-modern Miss Marple, beavers away at both these problems and, in the final denouement when all characters are gathered together, Chief Inspector Drummond allows her the floor. The reveal took me by surprise (and I can usually guess most). The book should’ve stopped there, but, unfortunately, we moved on to a chapter which suddenly brought in a lot of new characters. I can see that it tidied up the thread about Emily’s feelings about her house, but the story lost umph at the end.
Dame Emily’s character is well-written and we are on her side throughout, but, although she’s clearly elderly, there are questions unanswered, particularly what she did as a career, and why she’s a dame. Maybe we will discover this in sequel.
Descriptions, especially of Beachy Head, were excellent. Her depictions of rooms were also very good, especially of where characters were positioned, where and how. The story is written in the third person and past tense.
An Insubstantial Death can be found through Instant Apostle.