A Merry Murder
Pennyfoot Hotel #22
By Kate Kingsbury
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
It is an Edwardian Christmas, and the Pennyfoot Hotel is all dressed up. But when one of the guests turns up dead, owner Cecily Sinclair Baxter realizes it is not only the Pennyfoot that is back in business—the hotel’s Christmas curse is, too…
The Pennyfoot halls are decked with boughs of holly, a magnificently decorated tree graces the lobby, and the hotel’s bookings are finally looking up. Owner of the Pennyfoot, Cecily Sinclair Baxter is in high holiday spirits until disaster strikes, threatening to ruin yet another Yuletide. Her chief housemaid Gertie McBride has found a man’s body in the hotel laundry room—with a woman’s scarf wrapped around his neck and a note in his pocket from the hotel’s new maid.
Cecily is determined to track down the culprit, but with multiple suspects icing her out of crucial clues, she realizes this killer may be more slippery than most. With Christmas right around the corner, it is up to Cecily to prevent this holiday season at the Pennyfoot from turning out more fatal than festive. (From Goodreads)
What a great Christmas mystery! It is the first I’ve read of the many Pennyfoot mysteries and won’t be the last. The characters are as well developed as necessary for their roles, the setting of rural Badgers End in England at the shore sounds gorgeous, and the mystery is hard to solve. There is never a good time for a murder, occurring against the backdrop of Christmas preparations at the Pennyfoot, the Baxters’ struggle to keep the guests from worrying about a murderer on the loose.
Gertie, the chief housemaid, went to the laundry and found a heap of clothing that turned out to be a man. A dead man. Every year Christmastime there is an incident at the Pennyfoot, what Cecily, the owner, calls the Christmas Curse. When Gertie told Cecily, she and her husband Hugh Baxter knew the “curse” continues. They call in the bumbling Police Constable Northcott, who Cecily has learned over the years needs her help much more than she needs his. Well, except she needs to learn what he discovers so she can do her own search for the bad guy herself.
They don’t recognize the man as an employee, so they fear he is a guest. The Constable thinks the man died from a blow to the head. A very feminine, perfumed silk scarf is found around his neck, but did not contribute to his death. A note is in his pocket signed by the newest housemaid, Mazie, asking him to meet her in the laundry room at midnight. Another housemaid recognizes him as having been in the secret, guests-only cardroom. H was not a guest at the Pennyfoot; his name is Percy. When Northcott wants to take Mazie away, Cecily doesn’t want the girl, only 14, to be arrested as she is sure Mazie isn’t guilty. She is running scared, however, as her clothes are packed and gone, and so is she.
When talking with hotel guests who appreciated the card room, Cecily learns Percy had argued with Edwin Coombs, accusing him of cheating, but nobody seems to know who he is. Coombs suggested Sir Clarence Oakes might know Percy’s last name, as they were all members of the Bond Street Club in London. Sir Clarence says he can’t help, denying the man was a club member.
Finally, Northcott learns the man was Lord Percival Farthingale from London and was indeed a member of the club. Cecily has shopping to do in London, so she offers to tell his widow about his demise. He agrees, and she meets Lady Farthingale, who almost seems glad her husband is gone. She said they stayed at the Regency in Badgers End since Pennyfoot was full. He went out to play cards and didn’t return. After a couple days, she returned to London since his gambling excursions could last a week or more. Cecily assured her the killer would be caught.
The police arrest Mazie, and they await the Scotland Yard investigator, William Cranshaw, to charge her. Cecily visited her and learned what she could so she could proceed to find the real killer. In the meantime, one of Cecily’s best friends, Phoebe, is rehearsing her dancers for this year’s Christmas pantomime of Aladdin to entertain Pennyfoot’s Christmas guests. Charlie, the stable manager, is struggling with understanding the appeal of his new mechanic, Henry. Charlotte, one of the housemaids, asks Gertie to go to a suffragette protest with her at the annual Christmas festival in a nearby village. Afraid she will get arrested, Gertie will attend only if Charlotte will do exactly what Gertie tells her.
The characters directly related to the mystery were defined as needed, but as I had not read earlier novels in the series, I found it hard in places to follow along with the primary characters. I like Cecily and her staff, appreciating Cecily’s concern for and dedication to her best friends and her employees. Two of the housemaids had benefited from Cecily’s help in shouldering their burdens in the past to give them a safe place to live and work, and I found myself rooting for young Mazie and Henry.
The mystery is always front and center in this holiday tale, with Hugh being Cecily’s confidante as she seeks the bad guy. Lord Farthingale wasn’t anyone’s favorite person, but it is hard to narrow down a motive other than his wife’s weariness his gambling. Mazie’s freedom and the safety of her guests are priorities, especially after her own life is threatened. I enjoyed the stories within the story, including the lives of the staff and preparations for Aladdin. I found the mystery to be challenging, and only guessed the person a few pages before Cecily did. There were still surprises, and all except one possible loose end was wrapped up. I was able to figure out the necessary history of characters, the hotel, and events over time; I would suggest reading at least a couple of the earlier novels for maximum enjoyment of this one. I highly recommend it, especially to those who enjoy Christmas cozy mysteries!