I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Magic Chair Murder, set in 1920s England – see my review here – where Frances Black and Tom Dods team up to discover what happened to a woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. So I was delighted when this offering became available and I was approved to read and review it.
Tom Dod’s Aunt Hetty is worried – three sudden deaths have occurred in the sleepy village of Durley Dean. They might seem like tragic accidents, but Aunt Hetty isn’t so sure. After all, all three took a stand against Reverend Pinder, the new vicar of St Agnes Church, whose controversial changes have divided the congregation. But is there really a killer among the parishioners? And while Fran leaps at the chance to spend a weekend at Aunt Hetty’s sleuthing with Tom, could the trip prove to be a poisoned chalice in more ways than one?
While the mystery obviously takes centre stage and needs to be successful, for me the added pleasure with this series is the really likeable, intelligent main character, Fran Black. She is compromised, having been deserted by her husband at a time when divorce carried with it a huge social stigma and was difficult and costly to acquire. Her mother is querulous and demanding, having lost both sons in the Great War and while Fran is able to live on a fixed income without having to work, she is more than happy to become involved in the intricacies of an investigation as an escape from her unsatisfactory home life.
Janes is adept at slipping in all sorts of social and political details of the time without holding up the investigation, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I do like the fact that when someone is arrested and charged with murder, Fran and Tom become very aware that if they cannot find the real murderer, an innocent man will hang, which nicely ups the stakes. As with the previous murder mystery, this one owes its inspiration to the likes of Agatha Christie, with plenty of suspects.
I got there before the big reveal, but to be honest, that wasn’t a dealbreaker as it was only a couple of chapters ahead of the denouement and with all the other issues going on relating to Fran and Tom’s relationship – or lack of it – the plot didn’t stand or fall on the mystery alone. The pacing was nicely judged, the characters memorable and I kept thinking what a cracking TV show this would make. In the meantime, I look forward to the next one in the series as I’m keen to see where Janes will take these characters next. Highly recommended for fans of historical cosy murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Poisoned Chalice Murder from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.