My thanks go out to publisher Bookouture, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.
As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.
MURDER IN AN IRISH CASTLE – (A Lady Eleanor Swift mystery #12)
Irish whiskey, rolling green hills, a traditional Christmas feast and… a murder? Lady Swift will need the luck of the Irish to survive this holiday season!
Christmas, 1924. Lady Eleanor Swift has received a rather unexpected invitation to the village Christmas party in the tiny, rural hamlet of Derrydee in the west of Ireland. Eleanor is thrilled about exploring her ancestral roots at her late uncle’s estate and spending the festive season in a castle. Packing Gladstone the bulldog’s coziest Christmas jumper, they set off to the Emerald Isle with her butler Clifford in tow.
Arriving late at night, Eleanor and Clifford are shocked when they find a body sprawled in the snow on the winding country lane outside the estate. The local constable is immediately suspicious and all but accuses the pair of murder. This isn’t the warm Irish welcome Eleanor imagined!
Clifford is certain he recognises the poor fellow from the funeral of Eleanor’s uncle – but what was their connection? Undeterred by the villagers’ lack of gossip on the matter, Eleanor is determined to get justice for the victim. The man’s pockets are suspiciously empty of personal effects, but closer inspection reveals an old key hidden in the heel of his boot. Could this unlock more than one mystery for Eleanor?
But when a fire breaks out at the castle on Christmas Eve, an even bigger question looms: is someone out to ensure the family line dies with Lady Swift? And will Eleanor’s first Irish Christmas be her last?
Verity Bright is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing partnership that has spanned a quarter of a century.
Starting out writing high-end travel articles and books, they published everything from self-improvement to humour, before embarking on their first historical mystery.
They are the authors of the fabulous Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery series, set in the 1920s.
“We are utterly, utterly lost!”
Lady Eleanor Swift’s words cut through the monotonous rhythm of the windscreen wipers.
“If you say so my lady.”
Eleanor’s piercing green eyes swivelled to her butler as he steadfastly stared forward, steering the Rolls Royce along the inky-black ribbon of water-filled potholes that passed for a road.
“I do actually, Clifford. It’s almost midnight, we’ve been driving for an eternity and, as I said, we find ourselves entirely lost.”
“That’s a terrifying thought. Me, being an Irish Baronetess. After my rather Bohemian upbringing abroad, I haven’t finished wrestling with the intricacies of being a titled Lady of the Manor in rural England yet”
“So, you’ll help me order my thoughts while we eat? Because you know I’m lost without your exasperating logic and infuriating methodicalness”
“Them nuns have devious down to an art. For sure, they got themselves a palace in Ballykieran when the man who owned it was at his weakest. On his deathbed!” He tapped his nose. “All I’m saying, m’lady, is that there’s praying.” He put his hands together reverently, and then pounced forward like a tiger. “And then there’s preying!”
“How I would love to spend a day on your observant brain. Well, at least until your maddening methodicalness and irritating exactitude drove me to escape screaming”
“Why doesn’t life’s awkward social situations come with an instruction manual, Ellie!”
“Say nothing. Instead, get yourselves back to Hennelly Towers before you succumb to hypothermia or shock. Since indomitable is not the same as invincible”
“Irish whiskey, rolling green hills, a traditional Christmas feast and… a murder? Lady Swift will need the luck of the Irish to survive this holiday season”
Oh My! Just when I thought that there couldn’t be many more ways to deliver another amazing “Golden Age” murder/mystery story, especially when the series already has eleven episodes under its belt, authors Verity Bright pulled this little stunner out of the bag!
Unique and intriguing, this upside down and back-to-front storyline, tests even the most well-honed sleuthing skills of Lady Eleanor Swift, her butler come companion Clifford and of course, everyone’s favourite four-legged assistant, Gladstone.
As usual, I encourage you to check out the “Historical facts” section the author has thoughtfully included at the end of the book, although whether you do this before or after you read the story, isn’t too critical one way or the other. As personal preference, I went to the facts first so that I could place them in context with the storyline’s narrative and dialogue as I was reading.
The story so far…
After enjoying a most bohemian and well-travelled childhood, three years ago Eleanor Swift returned to rural Buckinghamshire, England following the sudden death by poisoning of her late Uncle Byron, to take up the role of Lady of Henley Hall, in what was at that time, a most unusual inheritance for a woman. The staff at Henley have all stayed in situ to support her and over the course of time she has earned their respect and admiration for the kind and generous way she treats her employees. For Lord Byron’s butler and long-time confidante Clifford, the culture shock has been felt most acutely, as with all his guile and stoicism, he is finding it almost impossible to honour his Lordship’s deathbed wish that he should transform his new mistress into Lady of the Manor, whilst she in her turn, is, metaphorically speaking, determined to scrub all the starch from her butler’s stiff shirt collars.
It has also been an unfortunate coincidence that since Eleanor’s arrival murder has seemed to dog her every footstep, no matter where she has travelled. So much so, that she and Clifford have become quite adept as amateur sleuths, much to the chagrin of Eleanor’s beau Chief Inspector Hugh Seldon, and on more than one occasion the pair have been more than lucky to survive their unofficial investigations and indeed, to escape with their very lives.
Following a surprise item of post, it has come to Eleanor’s attention that she is also now sole heir to Henley Hall’s sister estate known as Hennelly Towers, situated on the west coast of Ireland, a place which Lord Byron had never personally visited, although he had sent the staff financial support for themselves and the property to keep all in good repair. She is invited by members of the local village community to spend Christmas with them (or at least she thinks she has!), an offer which is accepted by Eleanor and Clifford alone (along with Lord Byron’s faithful four-legged canine friend Gladstone, who travels everywhere with his new mistress), leaving the downstairs staff to celebrate Christmas freely and in their own way, at Henley Hall.
The pair face a long drive, in terrible conditions, to reach their remote destination after disembarking the ferry, although they are even further delayed from arriving in a timely fashion, after coming across the half dead body of a young man, rather inconveniently, or rather too conveniently, depending on your level of scepticism, lying in the middle of a lane, miles from anywhere. When Eleanor and Clifford take the man in their car and seek help from a distant Abbey, the welcome they receive is far from hospitable or charitable, although the nuns do have outside communication with the village, so the local priest, doctor and police officer are called. The young man subsequently dies, although the recorded cause of death instantly rings alarm bells for Eleanor and Clifford, as do some of the ensuing rather strange and secretive practices and the very blasé and non-committal attitude of the locals towards the new English interlopers, including the fact that not a single soul seems interested in who the young man might be or if he has any family to mourn him.
When Hennelly Towers gatehouse burns down, supposedly with the body of Corcoran inside, the single employee who has not, for some unknown reason, deserted the estate, Eleanor and Clifford know that there is more going on in this poverty-stricken enclave, than meets the eye. There is some unexpected and surprising respite when the villagers welcome Eleanor and Clifford into their midst on Christmas Day with open arms and genuine smiles, but this bonhomie is short lived and when immediately the festivities are over and the murder attempts get just a little too personal to Eleanor and much too close for comfort for Clifford, it is clear that this is a personal vendetta with a difference, so the pair decide to literally take their ever-growing list of ‘persons of interest’, but not necessarily suspects, and turn it inside out. Rather than starting with the body of the young man, they attempt to trace a chain of events where his murder might have been the eventual outcome. However, Eleanor, who is still distressed at never having been able to ascertain at whose hand her uncle had met his demise, is in for even more upset, as it transpires that a hitherto unknown and long-lost, black sheep of the family, had lost his life trying to make amends for past misdemeanours.
Eleanor and Clifford are correct in casting aside their original suspect list, as this is a community which has lived in terrorised isolation and fear for so long, they have almost lost their spirit and will to survive. It isn’t until one brave soul, inspired by Eleanors feisty determination to do the right thing, finds his voice, that a beacon of light is lit, and a fire rekindled in their collective hearts. They have all been touched by the kindness of the strangers from across the water, so when more death and destruction is the only path laid out before them, they rise as one body to rebel, reclaim their freedom and save their visitors. Their strength and resilience are rewarded with generosity by a truly grateful Eleanor, however she and Clifford are united in their wish to make it home to Henley Hall, in time to see in the New Year celebrations with their trusted friends, although whether Hugh will be quite so enamoured of Eleanors Irish exploits and brushes with near death, remains to be seen!
This well-structured, multi-layered and highly textured storyline is fluently written in short, easy to navigate chapters, which keep the pace of the action non-stop and ever evolving. Just as well in a scenario where I was never able to spot the real villain of the piece or deduce the significance of the unidentified body in amongst the many twists and turns and multiple red herrings. In this story, revenge is definitely a dish best served stone cold and with calculated malintent.
Author Verity Bright has endowed her principal protagonist, Lady Eleanor Swift, with a unique gift, which served her well in this particular case. Her ability to relate to and interact with people from all walks of life, to recognise and nurture their individual strengths and encourage them to overcome their weaknesses, is a commendable trait which Clifford also possesses, although decorum and position means he is unable to articulate his feelings in the open and almost naive way in which his mistress does. The 1920s political theatre and location of this storyline, makes the abject deprivation and unique social mores of the time particularly pertinent and whilst they are not hidden from view, they are understood and compensated for in a discreet and poignant way by a Lady far ahead of her time, with great moral fortitude and disregard for authority and protocol. So, whilst many place names, with the exception of the ferry port, are fictional, through some evocatively descriptive narrative and dialogue, there is a genuine sense of time and place, enough to satisfy the appetite of this ‘armchair traveller’.
Whilst this storyline worked beautifully with a much smaller cast of regular characters, with its bleak and remote setting, it was a bit of a shame that on this occasion I wasn’t to be reacquainted with the ladies of Henley Hall and more importantly, Eleanor’s beau Chief Inspector Hugh Seldon. The relationship between the two fledgling lovebirds is still moving forwards very much at a snail’s pace, however, I have high hopes that one day Hugh is going to wear his heart firmly on his sleeve and move things ahead with a little more pace and abandon, as the balance he asserts between wooing Eleanor in a gentlemanly fashion and getting on with declaring his intentions, can be most frustrating. Clifford’s downstairs ladies are always a delight when they gang up alongside Eleanor to cajole him into letting his hair down a little, as he is still having difficulty in accepting that Eleanor brings with her a brand-new style of managing and interacting with her staff, with definite and very innovative ideas of exactly what a Lady of the Manor should behave like. Theirs is an ongoing battle of wits and subterfuge, but their growing respect and friendship for one another, can be in no doubt.
However, on this occasion, it was probably best that Eleanor, Clifford and of course Gladstone, ventured across the water to the west coast of Ireland alone, as there was little joy to be found in the bleak December isolation of Hennelly Towers, not even in the even stilted welcome the small party received from the locals of the nearby village and adjoining town. On this occasion, Verity has created a veritable cast of secondary characters, who are multi-faceted, well drawn and defined, are authentically realistic and genuinely believable in the individual roles which have been created for them. I could clearly visualise them all in my mind’s eye, even though they were never easy to connect with or relate to, until the very end, when there was the collective sigh of release from a long-held breath, and their friendly and garrulous Irish charm and wit was set free to fill the remaining pages of the book.
Whilst I would always feel quite comfortable in recommending that fellow readers might comfortably dip in and out of the series, as there are generally enough background story clues to bring them up to speed, reading book #1 would always be beneficial in offering up that slightly more detailed insight into the history between the main protagonists, so that you can see how the synergy between them is growing and becoming stronger over time. Oh! and I still maintain that every woman needs a Clifford in her life, even if she doesn’t realise it yet!
I read to relax, be entertained and enjoy a few hours of delicious escapism from the real world and a Lady Eleanor Swift story always sets me up, although I am always sad to see this dream team close a case and go off to get on with their own lives, leaving me to return to my own – but only until next time. Thanks for another lovely journey, Verity!
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 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.