I’ve enjoyed this cosy mystery series that deliberately harks back to the golden era of this genre – see my review of Murder Takes a Turn.
November, 1956. Lord Elsmere, an old friend of Donald Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, is in a pickle – his favourite painting, a Gainsborough, has been stolen from under his nose. What’s more, there’s no evidence of a break-in. The family heirloom was recently re-insured for a hefty price, and Elsmere is struggling financially. Could he have staged the theft, or was it taken by one of the guests? Old Major Rutherford, evasive beauty Rebecca Miles, Dutch war hero Patrick Verlinden, Elsmere’s son Dudley Mariner and his statuesque sculpture fiancée, Esmeralda Bellamy, are all guests at the manor. But who would steal the painting, and why? Private investigators Langham and Ralph Ryland take on the case and soon uncover seething animosities, jealousy, secrets and deception, before events take a shocking turn…
And if this setup seems as comfortingly familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa, then you’re right. This is the classic country-house murder mystery chock-full of likely suspects, with Donald and Ralph slogging through the forest of clues and red herrings to try and make sense of the puzzle, before tracking down the perpetrator. I really enjoyed this one. The murder mystery was intriguing, linked as it was to the theft of the Gainsborough and I particularly liked the denouement as it connected directly with the historical period when this story was set.
Brown’s writing superpower is depicting setting – the landscape he evokes in a future version of Paris in his science fiction adventure Engineman is outstanding and has seeped into my inscape. So having a thoroughly satisfying cosy mystery set in such a strong backdrop, where the social and political issues are taken into account is a real bonus. I’ve found myself thinking about this one several times since I finished it – always a sign of a successful book – and I highly recommend Murder Served Cold to fans of well-written country house murder mysteries.