Death of a Cozy Writer
Review: G. M. Malliet introduces Cornish Detective Chief Inspector St. Just and Detective Sergeant Fear (an interesting play on names here!) in Death of a Cozy Writer, a stylish English country house mystery.
The cozy writer is Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk, the wealthy author of a series of bestselling mysteries, who delights in tormenting his four adult children, and to a lesser extent, his ex-wife, by changing his will frequently, sometimes cutting one out, sometimes leaving everything to another. His latest scheme: announcing his intent to remarry and watching the family trip over themselves to stop the wedding. Or as his housekeeper puts it, "What Sir Adrian has planned is not a wedding, but the fireworks." When the family convenes at Adrian's country estate to "celebrate" the upcoming nuptials, they're surprised to find Adrian has added a twist to the story: he's already married. And here's another surprise: she was once accused of murdering her first husband. What no one planned on, least of all Adrian, was the brutal murder of his eldest son Ruthven, found in the wine cellar with his head bashed in. Nor was Adrian planning on being murdered himself, a knife thrust deep into his chest. With a fresh blanket of snow surrounding the house confirming no one had entered or left, DCI St. Just and DS Fear know someone in the house is a murderer.
Death of a Cozy Writer is, in many ways, a study of contrasts. The author borrows heavily from Agatha Christie, usually to great and amusing effect. Consider Adrian's amateur sleuth, Miss Rampling of Saint Edmund-Under-Stowe. That it is similar to Miss Marple of St. Mary Mead is no coincidence. Other knowing references are made throughout. For example, at one point Adrian tells St. Just of a storyline in one of his books where all the passengers on a train participate in the murder of another. St. Just says, "But, Sir Adrian … Surely Dame Agatha thought of that first." Adrian's retort: "Of course she did. But my book was better."
The pace of the narrative is leisurely at best. It takes well over 100 pages until Ruthven is murdered, and another 50 or so until the title character meets the same fate. At times it's like watching an extended game of Clue with Agatha Christie characters as the players. Readers will get the sense that in the end, St. Just will anticlimactically declare that the killer was Colonel Mustard with the wrench in the library and be done with it.
But suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, the plot takes a decidedly interesting turn, shedding much of the superficiality of the setup to become an intriguing and intricate mystery. In the beginning, Death of a Cozy Writer will entertain readers with its characters, setting, and board game-like features, but in the end will captivate them with a compelling denouement in a familiar gathering of the suspects in the drawing room.
Acknowledgment: Midnight Ink provided a copy of Death of a Cozy Writer for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Death of a Cozy Writer: England
— ♦ —
Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet — A St. Just Mystery
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: July 2008
List Price: $13.95