reviewed by Gail Byrd
A brand new series with lots of potential. First the characters. There’s Phyllida Bright, housekeeper, dedicated fan of Hercule Poirot, amateur sleuth, and keeper of a secret from her past that has her shying away from reports and publicity.
Then there’s Mr. Dobble, the butler, who finds Phyllida too young, too unconventional, and definitely too red-headed. He’s old school and wants to stay that way which would require Phyllida to give up her preference for pastel colored clothing, cover her hair so her head wasn’t quite so bright, and, while she’s at it, get rid of those infernal cats to whom he is allergic. Add to these Mrs. Puffley, the cook who has a temper and tends to throw things when she gets riled, Dr. Bhatt, the village doctor who at the very least seems to admire Phyllida, and Bradford, the chauffeur, who insists he’s just Bradford, not Mr. Bradford, and seems to watch Phyllida with a mixture of humor and frustration. Readers will hope to find these characters continuing on in the series with more information given so they can get to know them better. Of course, there are the two most famous members of the household, Max Mallowan and Agatha Christie Mallowan who only appear in brief cameos in this novel and that may be the best inclusion for them.
This book loosely centers on the murder of an unexpected houseguest who turns out to have lied about his occupation and his reason for being at Mallowan Hall. Phyllida almost immediately decides the police will need help solving his murder and she is just the one to provide it. After all, she is a dedicated fan of Hercule Poirot and she possesses quite competent grey cells of her own. Her penchant of being well organized should serve her well as she gathers clues and works toward solving this murder.
The plot is an intricate one, requiring a large cast of characters and a number of twists and turns. As Phyllida gathers information she is frustrated on a number of occasions when the clue or individual with information disappears just before she is about to learn something important about the case. This makes for a plot that at times seems to be slightly disjointed, but maintains the reader’s interest. As the series develops and characters become more established, there is increased potential for the plots to become tighter and the pace, which is somewhat relaxed in this novel, to become even faster.
Overall, this book is entertaining and an excellent beginning for a new series. I look forward to future books where I hope to get to know some of the principal characters better, including finding out more about Phyllida’s past secrets as well as why she seems so confident in the permanency of her job. It’s intriguing that Phyllida will join Agatha in her room for a cup of tea and a chat. What is their past that has created a relationship that is closer to friendship than employer-employee. Additionally, what has happened to make Bradford such a loner and will association with Phyllida eventually have the effect of making him more social?
All in all, this is a series worth watching. I would like to thank Kensington Books for an advanced copy for this review.