Murder at Mullings
In this uneven debut entry in a new mystery series set in an English village in the ′20s and early ′30s, the first ominous note sounds at the end of chapter one. The nanny of Lord and Lady Stodmarsh’s orphaned grandson, Ned, is fired for drunkenness and mistreating her charge, and the family worries she’ll take revenge. Before then and for a good while after, though, background information on the characters and estate of Mullings is thickly applied while the plot barely shuffles along, making the novel feel as mild-mannered and unexciting as the Stodmarshes, known for centuries in Dovecote Hatch for their “mopish propriety.” When the first death occurs, only Florence Norris, head housekeeper, guesses it was murder, but the lack of firm evidence prevents her from voicing her suspicions. Her loyalty to Ned, whom she had raised since birth, leads to her estrangement from pub owner George Bird, her potential love interest.
The story gains ground as more subplots involving Stodmarsh relatives, the caring and loyal Mullings servants, and their connections are introduced. When the elderly Lord Stodmarsh unwittingly brings a nefarious woman into his household, the resulting scandal really livens things up. Details on the peculiar aristocratic tradition of keeping an ornamental hermit add even more color. Overall, the book is more successful as a period saga than as a crime novel. It’s an enjoyable diversion, but hopefully future volumes will have improved pacing and a less passive sleuth.