It’s a real pleasure today to share my review of Murder at Mountjoy Manor by Elizabeth Ducie: the first in a planned series, the Coombesford Chronicles, this cosy mystery was independently published on 19th October, and is now available for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to the author for my advance reading kindle copy.
Elizabeth was my guest here on the blog way back in 2016, when we were introduced by Cathie Hartigan – although I’d already spotted her book Gorgito’s Ice Rink, and thought it was one I’d enjoy. I finally read it in 2019 – life seemed to intervene every time I’d planned to pick it up – and it was everything I wanted it to be with an engrossing story, a very sure emotional touch, and an opportunity to explore a culture and way of life that was totally outside my experience (you’ll find my review here). But I did manage to read her other writing in the intervening years – while thrillers set in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals might not have been my usual choice of reading, I really enjoyed both Deception! and Corruption! from the Suzanne Jones series (links are to my reviews). Her latest book is a cosy mystery, and that’s another genre that I very rarely read – but I very much enjoy Elizabeth’s writing, and I was more than happy to step into the unknown and give it a try…
Simon Mountjoy is the local boy made good. Returning to Coombesford after making his fortune in London, he spends thirteen years renovating his family home. He brings employment and prosperity to the village; but he also has a talent for upsetting people. Lots of people have reason to hate Simon; but who hates him enough to leave him dead at the bottom of the waterfall?
Charlie Jones gives up chasing villains and moves her family to Coombesford in Devon. But there are villains in Devon too!
Well, if all cosy mysteries are as engaging as this one, maybe I should read them more often – I read it in a single sitting, and enjoyed every moment.
Two elements I always enjoy when reading my usual romances are a strong sense of place and a well-drawn community – and I was delighted to find both in this book. Charlie and her family (and how lovely to meet them again – she was a favourite character in the author’s earlier thrillers) are now running The Falls, a gastropub in the village of Coombesford in the Teign valley. It’s a gorgeous setting, described quite wonderfully in the opening pages – until Charlie stumbles across the body of Simon Mountjoy in the river, the injuries that caused his death caused by rather more than being washed over the weir. And as the police team are called in to begin their investigations, the story moves back to five days earlier and we meet Simon Mountjoy himself, in the midst of filming a documentary about his renovation of the Manor – and we begin to find out there are many people who won’t be shedding tears at his untimely death.
The cast of characters in this book is simply wonderful. At the Manor – vividly described in all its luxury – there’s Simon’s young Ukrainian wife Olga, her personal trainer Nathan, and his faithful executive assistant Hilda Reynolds. And then we get to know the wider community – Roger and Celia who run the cafe and village shop (now facing competition from another on the new estate, financed by Simon Mountjoy), his partner Anthony Farsider (keen to sell their property development business to fund his retirement, but his partner is less enthusiastic), Pauline Wilson (who cares for her mother, is passionate about the environment and her beloved animals, but also holds a grudge that she voices loudly when she’s had her usual few drinks). And I know I shouldn’t have started this, because there are so many people who have reason to be less than upset about Simon’s demise – Charlie’s list of suspects grows ever longer.
I loved the way the story unfolded, as we got to know all the well-drawn characters considerably better – every one of them with a strong back story slowly uncovered, sometimes unexpected, sometimes lessening the likelihood of them being the killer, others moving more firmly up the list of suspects. The whole progress of the investigation is quite wonderfully handled – both with the detective pair who are great characters in their own right, and Charlie and wife Annie who also want to get to the bottom of the mystery. And the final outcome certainly doesn’t disappoint. I think I had every single character in the frame at some point as the author carefully manipulates the reader, dropping clues and red herrings, introducing new bits of back story that change perception – I’d like to say I got there before Charlie and the police team, but I really didn’t.
The overall feel of the book is rather like Midsomer Murders – a programme I always rather enjoy – but with a Devon accent and a vividly drawn location that I really loved. It is a shorter read, and I raced through it – there’s real warmth about the writing, with humour and lightness throughout, and while it certainly kept me on the edge of my seat I never lost the smile on my face. More, please – this really was a book I thoroughly enjoyed.
About the author
When Elizabeth Ducie had been working in the international pharmaceutical industry for nearly thirty years, she decided she’d like to take a break from technical writing – text books, articles and training modules – and write for fun instead. She started by writing travel pieces, but soon discovered she was happier, and more successful, writing fiction. In 2012, she gave up the day job, and started writing full-time. She has published four novels, three collections of short stories and a series of manuals on business skills for writers.