A Merry Murder (A Special Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery)

Written by Kate Kingsbury
Review by Valerie Adolph

It is Christmastime at the Pennyfoot, a hotel in the English countryside not far from London. Its owner, Cecily Baxter, is enjoying making preparations for a warm and memorable Christmas vacation for her elite guests in this carefree, pre-World War One season. Cecily cares for both her guests and her staff, so when a young and innocent new maid is arrested for murdering one of the guests, she feels compelled to intervene. This is not Cecily’s first foray into the world of detective in the cozy mystery world of rural England. However, it brings her to great personal danger, as her guests are uncooperative, and one of them might even threaten her welfare.

The novel is filled with memorable characters, from the faux French chef to the gambler, the would-be suffragettes, the half-asleep retiree manning the reception desk, and the unconventional wife of the doctor. Most notable is Phoebe Fortescue, whose annual ballet pageant can be expected to result in catastrophe. The lives of both servants and hotel guests are intertwined in this richly evocative presentation of lush Christmas displays against a background of murder, misunderstanding and cold snowy weather.

It’s a cozy mystery wrapped in the warm glow of Christmas at a time when the telephone is still a surprisingly convenient novelty and horse-drawn carriages are preferred to the noise and smell of motor cars. It is a world where elegant gowns are worn to dinner, retired colonels are reliably cantankerous, and your trusty coachman awaits you no matter the time or the temperature. Kingsbury is experienced in evoking a world beloved by mystery writers since Agatha Christie, and in this novel, she presents it vividly for readers of the genre. Christmas and the Phoebe Fortescue pageant are a bonus.