Murder through the English Post
Beryl and Edwina Mystery, Book #6
By Jessica Ellicott
Author Website: jessicaellicott(.)com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
A rash of poison pen letters has enveloped the sleepy English village of Walmsley Parva in cloud of suspicion and paranoia. But when rampant aspersions culminate in murder, enquiry agents Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport must stamp out the evil-minded epistles . . .
What began for two dear if very different friends–an American adventuress and a prim and proper Brit–as a creative response to the lean times following the Great War has evolved into a respectable private enquiry business. So much so that Constable Gibbs calls upon Beryl and Edwina to solve a curious campaign of character assassination.
A series of anonymous accusations sent via post have set friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor. In her new position as magistrate, Edwina has already had to settle one dispute that led to fisticuffs. Even Beryl has received a poison pen letter, and while she finds its message preposterous and laughable, others are taking the missives to heart. Their headstrong housekeeper Beddoes is ready to resign and one villager has attempted to take her own life.
The disruption of the peace goes far beyond malicious mischief when another villager is murdered. Now it’s up to the intrepid sleuths to read between the lines and narrow down the suspects to identify the lethal letter writer and ensure that justice is delivered. (Goodreads)
Edwina and Beryl, the delightful protagonists of this series, invited me in for a cup of coffee on the first page and welcomed me into their investigation. As a fan of historical fiction, I enjoyed learning more about post World War I Europe, especially the idyllic English countryside. I appreciated seeing various trades and careers women learned to keep life going on the home front during and after the war. The characters, setting, the plot itself, and its mystifying situations were delightful yet bittersweet. The novel was thought-provoking; what Edwina discovered about herself is as useful today as a century ago.
Edwina lives at the Beeches, her family home passed down through several generations. The Great War and the following months found many people in England, including her village of Walmsley Parva, struggling economically. Edwina was prepared to take in a boarder until her long-time dear friend Beryl came for an extended visit. They opened a private enquiry business. The differences in their perspectives due to their backgrounds were beneficial to the business and its income. Simpkins, a gardener who suddenly found himself the majority owner of a condiment company, also moved in and put much work and money into the gardens at the Beeches. It worked well for everyone and gave them their own little family of sorts.
Edwina began to work as a magistrate at the local court. On her first day, she learned about a poison pen letter sent to one of two men involved in an altercation. One man, Michael, found out by way of this anonymous, craftily prepared letter that his childhood friend, Norman, told nasty, hurtful lies about him. Michael confronted him about the letter and its contents, and Norman’s repeated claim of innocence did not calm him, thus the fight that brought them to court.
Over the next few days, several more people received poison pen letters, including Beryl and their housekeeper, Beddoes. Constable Gibbs asked their assistance after another woman, wife of the village doctor, attempted suicide after receiving a particularly venomous letter. One woman died, possibly the result of a stress-induced asthma attack.
Edwina noticed subtle differences in the letters, especially after discovering a huge clue. Some things were consistent with all the letters, such as the brand of envelopes and paper, the block lettering, and the use of words and letters snipped from periodicals. It was quite the puzzle, and nothing seemed to bring them closer to finding the bad guy. Or gal, since most poison pen letter senders were women.
The characters are three dimensional, most very likable and believable. Beryl, a worldly American adventuress who had traveled around the globe, including helping in various capacities during the war, was nothing like the very sheltered, proper Edwina. Their differences served to complement each other’s unique points of view. It was a friendship that worked, lasting the test of time. Simpkins did not seem like a man who was part owner of a national company. His keen observation and natural intelligence, coupled with what he’d learned of human nature over the years, however, gave him a perspective that could take him from the orchard or garden to the boardroom with ease.
Beginning to end, this was a very satisfying novel, with amazing descriptions of the era, the gardens, and how Beryl’s knowledge and wisdom acquired from years of travel and treks could be used in the genteel countryside. Plot twists made frequent changes to the suspect list. My list was quite short, even considering what they discovered amongst the letters. For some, the results were as toxic to life or reputation as if the sender had used physical poison. The solutions were discovered, and a sad justice of sorts was meted out. Edwina, Beryl, and their friend Charles had grown and changed in noticeable ways as result of those letters. I highly recommend this historical cozy mystery and am eagerly looking forward to the next one!