Brought to you by guest reviewer JoAnne
Tucked away in the rolling hills of rural western Virginia is the storybook resort of Storyton Hall, catering to book lovers who want to get away from it all. To increase her number of bookings, manager Jane Steward has decided to host a Murder and Mayhem Week so that fans of the mystery genre can gather together for some role-playing and fantasy crime-solving.
When the winner of the scavenger hunt, Felix Hampden, is found dead in the Mystery Suite, and the valuable book he won as his prize is missing, Jane realizes one of her guests is an actual murderer. Amid a house full of fake detectives, Jane is bound and determined to find a real-life killer. There’s no room for error as Jane tries to unlock this mystery before another vacancy opens up…
Before I tell you anything about this book, I have to tell you that to read it you must suspend all belief – and that’s not a good thing.
Jane Steward is manager of Storyton Hall, and niece of the owners, Octavia and Aloysius Steward. Storyton Hall is a retreat of sorts, a giant library that caters to its guests. Guests may bring electronic equipment, but they may not use them. They must be left in their room. They are there to read and relax. They are not even allowed to use e-readers. There is, however, plenty to do outside if you choose not to read. And they have wonderful food, from what I gather.
The book begins with Jane venturing to the village to pick up supplies. She sees a young woman race by on a horse that is out of control. Chasing her is a man on another horse, and when he finally reaches her and is able to stop the horse, it is too late. She has apparently died from fright. (More on this later, since you learn nothing else right away).
In order to bring more revenue into Storyton Hall, Jane decides to host a Murder and Mayhem Week, where people will attend dressed as their favorite literary detective, whether it be Nick and Nora, Miss Marple, or even Sherlock Holmes. When one guest arrives in character – and refuses to answer to any other name – as Umberto Ferrari, a detective written by Adela Dundee (both fictional, for those who would like to know), he stays in character. And when there is a scavenger hunt where the prize is a first edition Adela Dundee, he wins – but only by cheating because he got Jane’s twin six-year-old sons to help him. Which I guess is alright with Jane, because she knows they’re “helping” people and collecting ‘tip’ money for it. (Not very cricket, as they say, for those who chose to look for clues on their own, is it?)
When Mr. Ferrari, or Felix Hampden as he was in reality, is found murdered, Jane is stunned. But not too stunned to ignore the local sheriff when he tells her to stay out of the crime scene. She goes in anyway, telling him she ‘has an obligation to her guests to keep them safe.’ Which, of course, couldn’t have waited until the sheriff gave her the go-ahead. In reality, she’d probably be reprimanded or arrested for that kind of behavior. This sheriff just shrugs it off.
Now the dead woman comes into play – it turns out her Aunt Octavia had a minor stroke. And I mean minor, because the day afterward, she is sitting up in bed barking at everyone, with apparently no damage at all except the nurse tells her she might have a little trouble with her balance and need to use her cane. Hmmmm….anyway, Octavia apparently gave Jane the wrong first edition; this one had an envelope with a letter to Adela Dundee and the other one didn’t. So she asks Jane to get it back. When Jane asks her what is in the letter, Octavia tells her she doesn’t know, she has never opened it, since it was addressed to the deceased author. Another hmmm…readers are notoriously curious, but she didn’t open the letter nor forward it to any heirs either? And it turns out the dead woman was aware of the letter and searching for it, along with others who are attending the Murder Week.
Okay, the basis for the book is good. But it’s downright silly. First, her six-year-old boys are telling her they’re late for school and have already missed “first period.” They’re in grade school. There are no periods.
Secondly, when her aunt and uncle tell her they want her to become “the guardian of the books,” she discovers that it means that there are not just any books, but a secret room that has vacuum-sealed chests of rare books and is soundproof, bulletproof and fireproof. These are rare manuscripts – the finished copy of Edwin Drood, three unpublished Shakepeares, etc. So, everyone knows about the Lost Letters of Adela Dundee but no one knows about the rest? And, the people that work with her (her librarian, chauffeur, butler, etc.) are specially trained agents (they worked for the CIA, Navy Seal, Her Majesty’s Secret Service – to protect – priceless books. Books that supposedly no one else in the world except thieves know about; and I say this because why would any historian just turn manuscripts, etc., over to them and no one knows about it. I had a hard time believing that whoever discovered these items would just turn them over to the Stewards and figure that they could take the responsibility for them (if we’re suspending belief, we must ask questions like this).
And here’s an interesting point: She now has to train to “protect” the books. You know, martial arts and such. She needs to know archery, how to juggle daggers (!), fencing, etc. Is she planning on frightening thieves by showing them she can hit a target at 300 feet? (Besides, who walks around with a bow and quiver full of arrows). Teaching her to use a gun would have been more believable. The kicker is that she now must get a tattoo as the new keeper of the books. Okaaayyyy….plus, later on she mentions that “books aren’t worth killing for,” yet isn’t that what she’s training to do? Kill to protect her books?
Be that as it may, the story flowed smoothly and the dead woman tied in nicely with the mystery. It was well-written and I liked most of the characters, but would have liked to have known more about Edwin, the brother of her friend Eloise.
In the end, I would have really liked to have given it more stars, but it began to become a little far-fetched with the martial arts and tattoo thing (and I’m not against tattoos; just so you know, I have one myself). However, I am sure others may like this better than I did, so give it a chance if you’re a fan of Ellery Adams.