MURDER AT ST SAVIOUR’S (Flora Steele Mystery #5)
Bookshop owner and amateur detective Flora Steele teams up with handsome crime writer Jack Carrington to unravel a curious murder in the village of Abbeymead!
Sussex, 1957: When Flora and her partner-in-crime-solving, Jack, arrive at the charming church of St Saviour’s the last thing they’re expecting to find is the curate, Lyle Beaumont, lifeless on the flagstone floor beneath the belltower, with a mysterious note in his hand.
Flora is dismayed to find the poor curate dead. But she can’t help being intrigued by the eclectic mix of bell ringers present at the old church – Mr Preece, the local butcher, Dilys Fuller, the busybody postmistress, and Stephen Henshall, a newcomer to the close-knit community. Any one of them could be the culprit – and Flora needs to act fast before someone gets away with murder…
When Flora and Jack begin their sleuthing, they quickly realise all is not what it seems with the victim, and the certainty of the dead man’s identity becomes the first twist in the investigation.
Just as they’re getting closer to the answer, the death of one of the suspects changes everything. As a series of unexplained accidents unfolds across the village, it seems no-one who was present at the church on the night of the curate’s demise is safe.
Has the bell tolled on Flora and Jack’s detective days? And will they work out the truth in time to save themselves?
Merryn taught university literature for many years, and it took a while to pluck up the courage to begin writing herself. Bringing the past to life is a passion and her historical fiction includes Regency romances, wartime sagas and timeslip novels, all of which have a mystery at their heart. As the books have grown darker, it was only a matter of time before she plunged into crime with a cosy crime series set in rural Sussex against the fascinating backdrop of the 1950s.
Merryn lives in a beautiful old town in Sussex with her husband and one last cat, Bluebell. When she’s not writing, she tries to keep fit with adult ballet classes and plenty of walking.
“Flora Steele glanced at the Victorian station clock that hung on the opposite wall, and sighed. It was a timepiece her dear Aunt Violet had been thrilled to find at one of the many auctions she enjoyed, and every evening had wound it religiously before she locked the bookshop door. Over the years, Flora had grown to love it as much. But not today. Today, its hands were telling her she was going to be late when she’d promised her friend, crime writer and fellow sleuth, Jack Carrington, she would be ready to leave at five this evening.
The clang of the All’s Well’s doorbell had her look up expectantly and put to one side the wad of one-pound notes she’d been counting. Jack’s lanky frame filled the doorway, behind him the dark of a November night”
“The inspector held a grudging admiration for Flora’s detective skills but persisted in seeing her as ‘Jack’s little girl’ and treating her in much the same manner”
“Even now, as the country moved towards the late fifties, there were men who hated the idea of a woman drinking in a public house. Even in the lounge bar. In the saloon bar, alongside the menfolk, never”
“She doubted the girl would know much, but over the last year or so of sleuthing with Jack, Flora had learned that the seemingly unimportant small details could prove vital. It was having the patience to discover those details and then the patience to wait for them to make sense”
“He strode southwards through the maze of small streets, remembering the way from when he’d come to live with his father as a teenage boy, the surplus adolescent Ralph hadn’t wanted”
“All she could talk about was seeing the world and finding herself, well, I mean any fool knows that if you can’t find yourself exactly where you are, you’re not going to trip over yourself in a student hostel somewhere in the far reaches of the Australian outback, are you?”
“The hints have always been there, but not strong enough. Separately, they came to nothing. Together they built a picture”
Oh! My Goodness, this has to be Jack and Flora’s most complicated and dangerous case to date and just goes to show that perhaps living in a small village full of busybodies, where everyone knows everyone else’s business, may not be such a bad idea after all. Especially when suspicions are already heightened, as there are an unusually large number of strangers around, all at the same time. It was just a shame that our crime author and bookshop owning, amateur sleuthing duo, picked on the all the wrong misfits as suspects in this complicated case and almost didn’t survive the investigation to boot!
But I am getting ahead of myself somewhat, so a short recap is in order…
It is November 1956 in the picturesque fictional Sussex Downs village of Abbeymead. Bookshop owner Flora and crime writer Jack, have turned amateur sleuths on several occasions over the past couple of years, to successfully solve a rather inordinate amount of murders for such a small community. Their personal relationship has also been flourishing over that time, although with both of them having been hurt romantically before, neither are in a rush to move things forward too quickly.
As the young couple are about to leave the village on a date night at the cinema in Worthing, the bells of St Saviour’s ring out – well, a single peel from one bell, to be precise. A strange enough event for Jack and Flora to miss their film and rush to the church, along with several of the village bellringers, for whom it also happens to be practice night. The sight which greets them is not a pretty one, as the new curate, Lyle Beaumont, has met his end and lies at the foot of the bell tower. But did he fall, or was he pushed? With the local constable firmly out of his depth yet again, Inspector Alan Ridley is called in from Worthing to take charge of the investigation. The Inspector has been a great help to Jack over the years, when he has needed technical information for one or another of his crime thrillers, and in return Jack and Flora have been the unofficial eyes and ears of the police in Abbeymead when Ridley cannot be there.
Jack and Flora have noticed that there have been several other new arrivals in the village recently and this in itself raises more than a few questions, especially when the curate is not only confirmed as a murder victim, but, it transpires, is also not who he claimed to be. Connections are discovered which link the apparently disgraced imposter curate, to more than one of his fellow newcomers and the suspect list begins to shape and grow, along with the multitude of transgressions and crimes they have collectively committed. Flora literally brushes shoulders with one of the suspects, whilst her young delivery boy, Charlie Teague, is forced off the road while riding the shop bicycle, narrowly escaping injury. The ante is certainly being upped by someone.
Enquiries lead Jack and Flora to connect the deceased ‘curate’ with his family in Dorset and also with known acquaintances in the celebrated Knightsbridge area of London. They both take a weekend break to Dorset, where as well as discovering the true identity of their mystery body and his very chequered past, they also move their relationship one, very painfully slow step, further forwards. As Flora cannot leave the shop unattended and Jack is awaiting edits to his latest crime buster, he decides to make the journey to London alone, which may have been a blessing in disguise, as the murderer needs to tie up his loose ends now, and Jack almost loses his life, only surviving thanks to the goodwill of a complete stranger. When a very battered Jack returns to Abbeymead, Ridley requests a meeting with him, however, before they have the chance to actually exchange information, Flora goes missing and is discovered by the two of them, mercifully having escaped death by a hairsbreadth, in a place where she usually feels at her safest and happiest.
When one of the suspects in the original murder case, is subsequently murdered, Flora, Jack and Ridley realise that they are running out of time to make an arrest, before the body count rises any further. When Jack and Flora find themselves in a baited trap and left hoping that Ridley will follow the trail, arriving in a timely fashion and with backup, everyone is surprised by the identity of the true perpetrator, although ‘stranger, danger’ means that none of Abbeymead’s latest arrivals, are left without questions to answer and sentences to be served.
Can Jack and Flora get to celebrate a peaceful Christmas together, and what does the New Year hold for them?
This traditional 1950s murder mystery series, is still as compellingly addictive with each new episode, which continue to work well as standalone stories, with the backstory being deftly woven into the narrative and dialogue without detracting from the detail of the current investigation. However, Jack, Flora and all their new found village friends, are growing and developing into their roles all the time, so it’s probably best not to leave it too long to join the journey.
This series definitely improves with age in many respects, although I might have been just a tad disappointed that Jack and Flora never really solved this case in the way that they have so many others before. However, in all fairness, the police were just as far from uncovering the genuine protagonist too, and if it hadn’t been for the miscreant showing their hand, it is anyone’s guess whether they would have been caught before they managed to make good their escape. There were so many crimes and suspects, many of which were inter-linked, that unravelling all the multitude of twisted strands was beginning to become very unhealthy for our intrepid amateur sleuths and they may not have escaped the melee unscathed if it had continued for much longer.
It was good that Jack and Flora were both set free from the confines of the village for a short while, when they visited Dorset, as the respite did them the world of good, both physically and emotionally. The definition to their romance is clearly becoming more open and accepted, both to them and to their close friends, and author Merryn Allingham certainly didn’t leave her readers and followers of their story in any doubt about which way the wind was blowing, by the end of the book.
The same could not be said for Jack’s solo expedition to London unfortunately, as that was almost his ‘swan song’ moment, but for the fortuitous intervention of a stranger. We did however, get to know more about his personal background and latter childhood years, although his father is still not exactly the most paternal character you might wish to meet and I suspect that Jack is rather pleased with the hand life has recently dealt him. He has met another lone character in Flora, who has no family left to speak of and they live in a lovely place, which, although it can sometimes be a bit too up close and personal, with everyone knowing everyone else’s business; is, on the whole, a very caring and supportive community, once you have been accepted and your face fits, that is!
Each new book is like catching up with old friends and it is always good to see how everyone is getting along. The core cast of characters are all wonderfully authentic, well defined, easy to invest in and quite able to tell their own story. In fact they are more than willing to tell their story to anyone who will listen, so probably not best to let slip to any one of them anything in confidence and which you don’t want spreading far and wide, although for getting the word out there about their current investigation, Jack and Flora find the ‘jungle drums’ invaluable. There is a real sense of community growing around Jack and Flora, now that they have finally been accepted into the fold and knowing that someone will always have your back in times of crisis, is invaluable. However, I did think that there might have been a few too many ‘extra’ characters introduced this time around, who all stood out rather like a sore thumb. It was just a case of working out which of them were the rotten apples in the barrel, not easy as it turned out, but all the same perhaps a little too obvious and confusing.
Albeit that there is a mix of real and fictional places in the storyline, for any ‘armchair travellers’ like myself, the author uses her palette to paint enough descriptive detail to set the backdrop of a scene more than adequately, which, when taken together with the vivid details of everyday village life in the late 1950s, offers a realistic sense of time and place which is most satisfying.
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by publisher Bookouture and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.
Leave a reply