Written by Matt Costello and Neil Richards — Mystery at the Manor is the second episode in a 12-book series of cosy mysteries, which transatlantic writing duo Matt Costello (US) and Neil Richards (UK) intend to release in monthly instalments. Each book is intended to be a self-contained mystery and they all feature amateur sleuth Sarah Edwards and retired NYPD detective Jack Brennan. They are set in and around the fictional Cotswold village of Cherringham, where the newly separated Sarah has just returned with her children, and widower Jack has decided to retire to after losing his wife.
This one begins with a question: what prompted a 91-year-old man to venture up into the attic when his home was on fire? When Victor Hamblyn’s body is found in a room he’d forbidden anyone from entering, his carer is convinced that something is very wrong. Surely this wasn’t the tragic accident it’s been reported as? Besides which, Victor was barely able to climb the stairs unaided. The carer approaches her friend Sarah to ask Jack to look into it.
The investigation starts with a visit to the alleged crime scene. What follows is some amateur sleuthing with a methodical dash of police procedural as Jack puts his NYPD detection skills to use. The suspects are the dead man’s three children, and the motive is clearly the rambling house he’s left behind him. Each has their own individual reason for wanting to get their hands on the property, and to disinherit their siblings, but which of them wants the house badly enough to kill for it?
The mystery isn’t about Victor’s death alone. He died protecting something, or someone. What was so important that he might have ventured up into the attic rather than try to escape the fire? Could whatever he was hiding have been the reason for his death?
As a pairing, the dynamic between Sarah and Jack works well. Each brings key ingredient of the cosy crime conceit – Sarah in the role of the amateur sleuth and Jack ticking the police detective category, albeit in an retired form. Each has an individual back story, and these are alluded to but never takes centre stage. With Jack taking the lead, Sarah becomes a willing assistant who uses her contacts within the village to gather further information, while Jack does some digging of his own. To keep the story light-hearted, Sarah’s parents make a brief appearance, giving the duo the chance to re-group to share their findings.
Fans of the cosy crime sub-genre will find this series a welcome addition to their Kindle, iPad or other device’s library. It’s a series that can easily be dipped into without feeling at a disadvantage if you haven’t stuck with the running order. The writing is intelligent and engaging and the lead characters are likeable. And, Mystery at the Manor will keep you guessing until the final, Poirot-style reveal. It’s a quick, easy read, that’s perfect for the crime fiction fan in need of something to read on the commute to and from work.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars