Shrouds of Holly

Written by Kate Kingsbury
Review by Pamela Ortega

This latest installment in the popular Pennyfoot Hotel series continues the often bumbling efforts of heroine Cecily Sinclair Baxter to solve the latest crime taking place at the pre-World War I Pennyfoot Hotel, now converted into a country club. During a search for Christmas holly boughs in nearby woods, Cecily’s beloved husband, Hugh, and their stable manager, Samuel, go missing, and a man’s murdered corpse returns in Hugh’s carriage. The crime is further complicated when the battered Samuel later returns alone, but with amnesia blocking most memory of what happened.

Cecily sets out to discover Hugh’s whereabouts. The author plants plenty of red herrings: was the dead man, Hartridge, murdered by a London crime syndicate for his unpaid gambling debts? Or was the nephew who inherited Hartridge’s fortune responsible for his murder, or his creepy butler who eavesdropped on every conversation? And what of the belligerent, perhaps crazy, gardener, whose wife most likely had an affair with the murdered Hartridge? Did he murder his wife’s lover?

Cecily’s investigations take her from gypsy encampments to several clandestine searches of Hartridge’s palatial home, often with the stalwart but hapless stable manager, Samuel, in tow, in spite of his serious head injury. Clues abound with help sometimes coming from often clueless friends.

This is a mildly amusing cozy with its heroine determinedly interrogating most possible suspects and occasionally resorting to breaking and entering in order to rescue her husband. It’s a bit improbable, all that she gets away with, but this is a cozy, after all.