Carola Dunn’s mysteries were on my “one day” list for a very long time. But the right book to read first never turned up in the library or a local shop and so there she stayed. Until I learned that she was launching a new series set in Cornwall. An order was swiftly placed!
The premise was appealing:
“Eleanor Trewynn is a recently retired widow who has moved to the small village of Port Mabyn in Cornwall. A lifetime of travelling the world, working for a charitable organisation in some of the poorest parts of the world, has made her capable of handling nearly anything, Now, however, Eleanor is ready for an uneventful life with her dog and her friends in this quiet town, but unfortunately, excitement seems to follow her around…”
At first though I struggled with Manna From Hades. You see it was Cornwall, and yet it wasn’t: the big picture was right but some of the details were wrong.
But to be fair the author did explain on her note that it was “a fictional world between her childhood memories and the present reality” and it is a very nice world that she has created. And as someone who works for a global charity in a Cornish seaside town I may have been a little over sensitive!
I dropped the book for a while, but the mystery and the characters called me back.
The scene is set with Eleanor driving through the countryside collecting donations for her local charity shop. On her return to Port Mabyn she finds that her load includes a briefcase full of jewellery that she doesn’t remember collecting. It must be fake she thinks, and maybe some shy and generous soul slipped it into the car when she wasn’t looking,
Or maybe not: there is a body hidden in the charity shop’s store-room….
A mystery is built: valuable stolen jewellery and a body that does not seen to be connected with the robbery. And then, of course, that mystery is unravelled. It’s simple but it’s nicely constructed.
It’s the cast and their interactions that make it work:
Eleanor is bright but she is vague and slow to mention key facts. That aggravates Inspector Scumble, a fundamentally good man who is struggling with the new-fangled notion of women police officers. It’s fortunate then that Detective Sergent Megan Pencarrow is bright and hard-working. And that the inspector doesn’t know that she is Eleanor’s niece. The cast is rounded out by young Nick Gresham, Eleanor’s artist neighbour, and her smart and practical friend, vicar’ wife Jocelyn Stearns.
And best of all was Teazle : Eleanor’s West Highland terrier is a star!
Setting, mystery and cast combined with lovely storytelling produced a lovely light read.
Not perfect, but certainly good enough for me to pick up the next book in the series.
A Colourful Mystery opens with Eleanor collecting Nick at the railway station. He is on a high after a productive meeting with a London art dealer, but his happiness is shattered when he opens his gallery door and sees paintings slashed through.
Nick rushes off to confront the man he believe to be responsible with Eleanor, worried at what he might do, in hot pursuit. But he finds the man dead on his studio floor, and his hysterical girlfriend accuses Nick.
A different mystery, set this time in a community of artists, but I’m afraid it didn’t work for me. The early chapters dragged, and when it eventually got going I’m afraid it stretched credulity a little too far.
But the cast were still engaging, and my appreciation of how well they were drawn, how well their relationships were balanced grew. I appreciated too how clever it was of Carola Dunn to make her heroine’s niece a policewoman, allowing her to present different view of the central mystery and making it a little less difficult to keep an amateur detective close to the heart of that mystery.
The foundations of the series are still good, but I’m not quite sure about what ha been built on them. And I suspect that this may be a series for the cosy mystery devotee rather than the general reader.
But I could still be tempted by a third book: it would be lovely to meet the people – and the dog – again.