Christopher Gilhaney isn’t a popular man, and he proves why once again when he insults every guest at Abigail Chase’s Guy Fawkes Night dinner party. When Gilhaney is shot dead under the cover of the night’s fireworks, his murder is deemed a robbery gone wrong. But when the case hasn’t been solved six weeks later, Inspector Witherspoon is called upon to find the killer—and quickly!
With Christmas almost here, Inspector Witherspoon and everyone in his household is upset at the possibility of having to cancel their holiday plans—all to solve a case that seems impossible. Only Luty Belle, Ruth, and Mrs. Goodge refuse to give up and let the crime become a cold case. In fact, the American heiress, the charming next-door neighbor, and the formidable cook use all of their persuasive powers to get the others on board, because these three wise women know justice doesn’t take time off for Christmas.
This is the first Mrs. Jeffries mystery that I’ve read, and it will not be the last! This is a fabulous cozy mystery set in the Victorian era of London with memorable characters and rich descriptions. It is a deliciously complex mystery with many characters and many bits of information documented slowly enough that the reader can try to understand and assimilate.
Everyone in Inspector Gerald Witherspoon’s household has plans for the Christmas holiday, including one couple going to France. Gerald is going with Lady Ruth Cannonberry to visit her friends in the country. At least they were until Witherspoon and Constable Barnes are given a homicide from six weeks earlier that was bungled by the inspector who wanted the case. Each person, from Constable Barnes to all the staff at home, grumbles about how it isn’t fair or right.
Mrs. Jeffries and the household staff, a couple friends of the family, and their friends have helped solve mysteries behind the scenes in the past for Inspector Witherspoon. Mrs. Jeffries gets new information from Gerald at the end of each day as a listening friend as well as the housekeeper. Each morning, she or Mrs. Goodge, the cook, converse with Constable Barnes and tells him what they have learned or shares questions they might have regarding a clue or person. Witherspoon, of course, knows nothing about this.
Needless to say, since everyone thought their Christmas as ruined, almost nobody has the heart to do their investigating. Some even spend part of their hours out and about doing what they wanted instead of what they typically do for an investigation. Even Mrs. Jeffries has never been as downhearted as this time. She – and the rest – need a boost, and I am so very impressed with the wise women, especially one of them.
There are many individuals who contribute to the investigations, thankful to have something of value to share for their town. Those who work at the Witherspoon home are very pleased to know that their day to day work for the inspector is appreciated, and are reminded of how the quality of their lives has improved when contrasted what they hear from staff at other homes. It is hard to have a favorite character as each is unique and talented. Ruth, perhaps, is exemplary; her encouragement to the staff is based on her sincere gratitude for the inspiration their past diligence and service for the Inspector has been to her. The dialog is realistic, and their action speak equally as loud. They are all defined as well as necessary for their roles. One thing I found challenging is how many characters there are! It may or may not have helped to begin reading earlier in the series, yet I am glad to have many earlier novels to find and enjoy.
The historical aspects of the time are excellent, feeding my appreciation for historical fiction. It appears to require considerable research. For example, one description I enjoyed is how the (male) secretary for Chief Superintendent Barrows reacts every time their new telephone rang, something I have read in other novels of the period.
The murdered man wasn’t well liked. After the hateful things he voiced to those at the dinner party, I’m surprised the guests and hosts didn’t all go after him! There seemed no end of possible culprits. As Inspector Witherspoon and Constable Barnes go about their investigation, and as his staff do their behind-the-scenes investigating, there were so many pieces of information that finding the relevant ones was challenging. The author proves that every person has a different point of view even when seeing and hearing the same thing. Further, she shows just how deeply embedded into the structure of the municipality is the criminal element and “who knows who did what”.
I did figure out who the real killer was based on a couple clues I found midway, but was so enamored of the author’s writing and other clues that I reconsidered and was almost swayed to change to a different suspect that sounded really guilty on paper. I was very satisfied with the resolution, and highly recommend this novel to those who have enjoyed previous Mrs. Jeffries’ mysteries, or appreciate well-written historical mysteries. This is an excellent example of a Victorian-era novel.