Mrs. Jeffries Sweeps the Chimney
If you were a fan of the British TV series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” this London Victorian mystery (eighteenth in a series) is made for you. The series is structured around dense but wealthy Inspector Witherspoon and his bright housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, widow of a Yorkshire policeman. On his own, the inspector doesn’t have the wit to solve any murder. However, Mrs. Jeffries, with the aid of a network of amateur sleuths formed of servants and higher-class friends, manages to steer him in the right direction, allowing him to solve his cases and maintain his super-sleuth reputation. In this case, a vicar is killed, and the bones of a woman are found in the chimney of an abandoned house. Are both crimes related? The setup is ingenious in that it makes it plausible for an amateur to bump into so many crimes. The characters are varied and interesting, with personal lives that sometimes interfere with the investigation. The setting is vivid, one where the reader can smoothly drift into the chosen timeframe. It is light, cozy fare, pleasant to read, devoid of gore, filled with gentility. Except for the need to believe that Witherspoon still hasn’t a clue of what is going on around him, it is highly enjoyable.