Mrs. Jeffries and the Midwinter Murders
Mrs. Jeffries #40
By Emily Brightwell
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Mrs. Jeffries and Inspector Witherspoon should be checking off their Christmas present list but instead they’re listing murder suspects in this latest entry of the beloved Victorian Mystery series.
Harriet Andover had no intention of dying young like her silly siblings had. She intended to outlive them and outdo them as she always had. But Harriet discovers that the best intentions can lead to murder when she is strangled inside her mansion with a house full of holiday guests.
As much as Inspector Witherspoon enjoys his job delivering justice, the last thing he wanted was a complicated murder case just a week before Christmas. He soon discovers that Harriet’s own husband and grown stepchildren are not overcome with grief and neither are most of her friends. And to put the icing on the Christmas cookies, the room where Harriet’s body was found was locked from the inside and she had the only key in her pocket.
Mrs. Jeffries and the household have no intention of letting their inspector down and learn that Harriet’s sister may have died from foul play as well. As the clues mount, this dedicated band of merry sleuths will not rest until they’ve delivered a stocking full of coal to a crafty killer. (from Goodreads)
I always look forward to new books in the Victorian-era Mrs. Jeffries series, and this one is excellent! It can be read as a standalone, as there is sufficient backstory included. Scenes are described in such a picturesque way, I felt as if I were there. The characters that I most enjoy seeing again are defined well through conversations and behaviors.
Christmas is only a week away, and Inspector Gerald Witherspoon and his household staff are preparing to celebrate. There is almost always a murder before Christmas, so they hope this year will be different. When Witherspoon fills in for an evening shift inspector, however, he ends up catching a new case.
Witherspoon is well respected and liked by the staff at his home, which he inherited from his late aunt. He has the highest homicide solve rate in London, and unbeknownst to him, his staff contributes to each investigation. Mrs. Jeffries, the housekeeper, is skilled at organizing staff and friends with a knack for getting information from people who won’t talk to the police. She then puts all the dribs and drabs of data together. She either shares findings with Constable Barnes, who usually assists Witherspoon, or poses questions to Witherspoon that leads him to the bad guys. Yes, he can solve the murders himself, it would just take longer.
Harriet Andover was an astute businesswoman who spent Monday afternoons in the conservatory of the home she, her husband Jacob, and his adult children share. She handles all her own business and finances, working on them behind closed, locked doors to keep Jacob, Ellen, and Percy out of her business. When Harriet was late coming to dinner, Jacob sent for the extra key in his housekeeper’s alcove. They found Harriet in the conservatory, strangled with the sash from Jacob’s dressing gown.
Everybody seemed shocked when Witherspoon arrived, but few were broken up about it. Even her best friend and holiday houseguest, Marcella, didn’t seem very sad. The one exception might be her nephew Daniel, a priest from California, doing research in London. He had been a houseguest for a few weeks and getting to know his aunt.
The staff is dismayed at the loss of Harriet. While she expected them to work hard, she was fair and made sure their working conditions and compensation were more than adequate. Daniel and Harriet were growing fond of each other, and she trusted him with concerns she didn’t trust Jacob or her stepchildren with. The Andovers quickly tired of Witherspoon’s questions and visits as he was there daily to ask more questions or search for any clues.
As Mrs. Jeffries, the staff, and their friends began to talk with their sources and chat up neighbors, they found out some remarkable things about the Andover family members and Marcella. Some things were funny, such as Percy’s attitude about working! Some things were sad, while others were irritating.
Mrs. Jeffries and her group are as well defined as necessary for their roles, right down to the little daughter of Betsy and Smythe. We learn new tidbits about most of the regulars. I did enjoy the emotions Witherspoon displays at times, especially regarding a certain hobby and his nightly sherry with Mrs. Jeffries. The Andovers and Marcella are not people I would care to know, but Daniel seemed to have potential. People can be surprising, however, and I had a change of heart about some of the characters by the end.
Mrs. Jeffries is a whiz! I was astonished when she figured out who the killer was, as we see the same clues that she does. I was barely beginning to consider the person when Mrs. Jeffries sought proof. Time suddenly sped to fast forward, and the takedown had some of the funniest moments I’ve seen for a while! The Witherspoon household was ready to celebrate Christmas on time. Almost all loose ends were tied up except for a storm that was brewing throughout. Inspector Nigel Nivens, Witherspoon’s nemesis, is coming to Scotland Yard, and he’s determined to prove Gerald is a fraud. I am SO looking forward to seeing Mrs. Jeffries take him on again! I highly recommend this and the rest of the series.