• Search
  • Lost Password?
Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

Murder At The Priory Hotel
by Merryn Allingham


Cover image of the book 'Murder At The Priory Hotel' by author Merryn AllinghamJoin Flora Steele – bookshop owner, bicycle-rider, and amateur detective – as she faces her most puzzling case yet!

Sussex, 1957: When Flora Steele and handsome crime writer Jack Carrington attend the grand re-opening of the Priory Hotel in the beautiful little village of Abbeymead, their day out is cut short when the flame-haired female singer in the band suddenly drops dead before their eyes.

Flora is stunned by the unexpected turn of events and immediately deduces foul play. Beverly Russo was a spirited young woman with a big voice and Flora is determined to get to the bottom of her untimely demise – especially as the detective sergeant leading the investigation is so hopeless. The first clue in the extraordinary case is Beverly’s missing ruby ring…

As Flora makes her enquiries, she discovers that Beverly wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and there’s more than one person in Abbeymead who had reason to dislike her. But who had the biggest motive: Beverly’s former beau Tommy May, jealous love rival Sally Jenner, or the local doctor who seems to be up to no good…

Then one of the suspects is found dead in the woods near the Priory Hotel. The murder weapon – a musical instrument. As the investigation reaches a high note, Flora knows she must find the culprit and make them face the music before anyone else is hurt. But will Flora’s tenacity put a dangerous spotlight on both her and Jack?

Cover image of the book 'Murder At The Priory Hotel' by author Merryn Allingham


Image of author Merryn Allingham

Merryn’s father was a soldier and most of her childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including several years living in Egypt and Germany. She loved some of the schools she attended, but hated others, so it wasn’t too surprising that she left half way through the sixth form with ‘A’ Levels unfinished.

She became a secretary, only to realise that the role wasn’t for her. Escape beckoned when she landed a job with an airline. She was determined to see as much of the rest of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew allowed her to meet a good many interesting people and enjoy some great experiences.

She still loves to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where she has lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years she taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending her life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them.

She had always had a desire to write, but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. Gradually the critical voice in her head grew fainter and the idea that she might actually write a whole book began to take hold.

The nineteenth century was her special period of literature, so her first book had to be a Regency romance. Several novels later, she published a suspense saga set in India and wartime England during the 1930s and 40s. This was followed  by some works of suspense and romance, set in Sussex during the summers of 1914 and 1944 respectively, plus a couple of standalone novels that slip in time between the Victorian period and contemporary England. Now with her foray into the world of the cozy mystery, she has really established herself as a multi-genre author.

“Whatever period, though, and whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.”

Cover image of the book 'Murder At The Priory Hotel' by author Merryn Allingham



“Flora Steele wheeled Betty, her much loved bike, from her wooden shelter and down the red brick path into Greenway Lane, pausing at the cottage’s front gate to wipe her forehead, already damp from an unseasonably hot day. She was not looking forward to the sticky ride through Abbeymead or the even stickier afternoon that lay ahead. Sally Jenner was relying on her friends to make today’s reopening of the Priory Hotel a success. The girl had sunk every pound of her savings into its purchase and refurbishment”

Cover image of the book 'Murder At The Priory Hotel' by author Merryn Allingham


“It happens, boys get led along the wrong path and before you know it, the police are involved. But Shane has turned his life around so one must be generous”


“Six years ago he’d begun to make a happier life for himself, had believed wholeheartedly that he’d found where he belonged. But when failure came knocking at his door, his certainty as a novelist fizzled, and the struggle to regain a lost confidence had been painful. It was only gradually that he’d summoned up the belief to begin again”


“Two separate deliveries from the warehouse arrived early, filling what little empty space the shop possessed and needed to be unpacked as soon as possible. Scissoring open the first box, she breathed in the bookishness of its contents. This was a moment she always savoured: the touch of smooth covers, the smell of print, the solidity of pages beneath her hand”


“When he’d called Flora impossible, he hadn’t been wrong. Once she got an idea into her head, it stuck. She was like a terrier digging for a rabbit, and it was tough luck on anyone who got in the way”


“But Jack yearned for real progress, hating the feeling of being stuck, of drowning in the stodge of a puzzle that became more unfathomable by the day”

Cover image of the book 'Murder At The Priory Hotel' by author Merryn Allingham


“Join Flora Steele – bookshop owner, bicycle-rider, and amateur detective – as she faces her most puzzling case yet!”

There are so many different strands to the books in this series and I am enjoying the individual and unique journeys they are taking me on, and the ways in which they draw together in each new episode. The budding friendship between Jack and Flora is probably the most frustrating aspect, as I really am itching to give the pair of them a good shove in the right direction. The developing synergy between our new amateur sleuths and their fellow villagers is proving to be quite satisfying, as they seem to be fitting in remarkably well now that they have accepted that none of their personal business is ever going to stay private for very long. And of course, the murders themselves, which seem to be overly abundant for such a small and insular community, and are becoming more convoluted, complicated and dangerous, each time one occurs.

So, down to the business at hand…

Cover image of the book 'Murder At The Priory Hotel' by author Merryn Allingham

1957 – Somewhere in Sussex – Crime writer Jack and bookshop owner Flora, are both hard at work trying to make ends meet, however that doesn’t stop them agreeing to help out Sally, one of the friends they have made in the village, who is much closer to them in age and who has taken the brave step of sinking all her life savings and a very large bank loan, into resurrecting and breathing new life into one of the local landmarks, the Priory. Since the passing of the last titled owner of the impressive building, it has fallen into commercial ownership and has had a couple of failed attempts at re-inventing itself as a profitable business opportunity. Sally and her new business partner Dominic are planning on opening the Priory as an exclusive privately run hotel and restaurant, and today is the grand opening. Dominic is the latest newcomer to the village and the jury is still very much out, as to his suitability either as resident material, or Sally’s beau.

A band has been booked to play at the opening garden party for the locals, although the row going on between the four group members, is very loud and public. No sooner have they reluctantly taken to the stage than the lead singer Beverly, literally drops dead in front of everyone, which brings proceedings to an abrupt close before they have even begun. Dominic chooses this exact moment to do a disappearing act of his own, leaving a bereft Sally with tons of food to try and salvage and with bookings already being cancelled, as the police insist that the Priory must remain closed until their investigations are complete. Despite it being common knowledge that Beverly had a minor heart complaint, Flora and Jack are both convinced that this was not the cause of death, so despite the police’s usual reticence to take heed of their advice, they decide to open up their own investigation into events, in the hope of helping Sally re-open the hotel as soon as possible.

In fact, after a very few frustrating days of getting nowhere, Inspector Alan Ridley, who is heading up the investigation and who also, on occasion, has been known to provide Jack with a little technical assistance to authenticate his crime novels, is only too happy to take whatever ideas Jack and Flora can bring to the case. He even, rather tongue in cheek, also floats an idea which the pair themselves had fleetingly considered – that they should set up their own detective agency. The suspect list is extensive and the more digging they do, the more Flora and Jack realise that no one is above suspicion and everyone seems to have something to hide; from the morally corrupt locum doctor, to every member of the band who have each had their own brush with the law previously, their agent one Max Martell who is a sleaze-ball to his core and soon dumps the band once Beverly is no longer around, right through to Sally’s partner Dominic who has lied to her almost every step of the way. The one thing they all have in common though, is that Beverly has used, abused and blackmailed them all at some stage and eventually even Flora and Jack come to the conclusion that no one is really sorry that she has gone and that she probably got what she deserved in many respects. But that in no way exonerates the murderer from being brought to justice.

The investigation is all but wound down after a week or so, with the cause of death eventually having been established, but with the police as yet none the wiser about the identity of the perpetrator. Jack and Flora have followed several leads, one even having Jack drive from Sussex down to Hampshire on his post-war, meagre petrol rations, but all to no avail. The couple have befriended a young lad from the village, one Charlie Teague, who has proved to be very hard-working and loyal, and will do just about anything asked of him for pocket money. On the very day when the band are to be allowed to leave the Priory, leaving Sally to open the doors to paying guests at last, he tracks down Jack in a very flustered state, saying that a body has been found in the woods behind his school and that it has something to do with Beverly’s death. Rushing to the scene, Jack ascertains that the victim is Max Martell and this time the way he has died is very obvious and particularly brutal…

But when is a murder weapon not a murder weapon?

Not knowing of the latest events, Flora and just about everyone else from the village, are at the Priory, giving a very apologetic Dominic, to whom Sally has decided to give one more chance, and the rest of the staff, a hand to clear up the aftermath of the police investigation and prepare to open for business. Flora is cleaning out some of the rooms the band members have been using and has come across a couple of items which she keeps aside to show Jack, as they seem rather conspicuously out of place. Jack hotfoots it to the Priory much sooner than Flora had anticipated, to let her and Inspector Ridley know about Max’s death. The murderer, realising that the game is up, tries to make a run for freedom, however a very recklessly brave Jack and Flora, make a heroic stand until Ridley can organise his men and the person is apprehended. Still everybody’s money is on the wrong person, until Flora remembers her valuable evidence and then the game is really well and truly up for someone!

Cover image of the book 'Murder At The Priory Hotel' by author Merryn Allingham

This traditional 1950s murder mystery series, is fast becoming compellingly addictive and growing in depth, with each episode also working well as a standalone story, the backstory being deftly woven into the narrative and dialogue without detracting from the detail of the current investigation, which comes to life on the pages as I am reading, transporting me back in time, immersing me in the action and making me part of the village life, if only for a short while, until I get rumbled by the long standing residents, who demand to know my credentials.

Despite the fact that the author  has chosen to use fictitious place names, making it difficult for any confirmed ‘armchair travellers’ such as myself, to track the action and plan their journey, plenty of wonderfully assured observational and descriptive narrative, together with some excellent conversational dialogue, offers a really good sense of time and place, which more than compensates.

As I have come to expect from author Merryn Allingham, this well structured, multi-layered and highly textured storyline, was fluently written over many concise, easy to navigate and well signposted chapters, which kept the action fast-paced and seamlessly evolving, with literally never a dull moment. It is usually the case that the longer an investigation goes on for, the more the suspect list is honed and refined; but for Jack and Flora, the more dirt they dig looking for answers, the more names are added to their notes, and all with plausible motives. The suspect list was lengthy, the twists and turns just kept on coming and even Jack’s usually well-ordered mind, struggled to correlate the facts in any meaningful way, so what chance did I stand!

Merryn has created a multi-faceted, well drawn and defined cast of characters who, whether they are on the side of good or bad, are authentically realistic to the times and genuinely believable in the individual roles which have been created for them. Drawn from a diverse cross-section of society, they are relatable and easy to connect with, with some excellent dynamics and synergy ensuing between them. Although naturally, you have to pass the all important ‘do you fit into the community?’ test and be prepared to have your lifestyle examined to the nth degree first. The characters have then been given a strong enough voice, that they are able to direct and guide the storyline, with just the gentlest of author nudges every now and then.

Jack and Flora make a great team within the wider community, balancing each other out, as they play to their individual strengths, and working their way logically through all the possibilities of a case which was always believable. Evidence, if any was necessary, that they would make a howling success of their own Detective Agency, but only if they can overcome certain personal inhibitions first. Flora definitely hasn’t been quite as inquisitive and forthright as usual during the course of this investigation, not I suspect, because she has lost any of her enthusiasm for solving crimes that she would otherwise only be reading about in one of the novels she sells in her bookshop, but because she is desperately trying not to be thrown any closer to Jack than she needs to be, as she strives to keep their relationship on a ‘friends only’ footing. Both have previously had bad experiences in the romance department, compounded in Jack’s case by the age gap between himself and Flora, which he believes she might live to regret in a few years time if she commits now. Basically, it’s a case of ‘one step forwards, two steps back’ – or is that all about to change? I’m not counting my chickens or holding my breath though!

In this story, revenge is definitely a dish best served cold!

This book and series definitely ticks all the right boxes for the reasons I read and how I want to feel when I have finished the last word and closed that final page. Thank you for taking me on another lovely journey, Merryn.

Image of author Merryn Allingham

A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher 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 5 out of 5 stars

Thank you so much for taking time to read my review, I appreciate your support


Written by

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

View all articles
Written by Yvonne