My thanks go out to the lovely Sarah, representing 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.
MYSTERY BY THE SEA – (Lady Eleanor Swift #5)
Spring, 1921. Lady Eleanor Swift, explorer extraordinaire and accidental sleuth, hasn’t had a vacation since she arrived in England a year ago. Being an amateur detective can be a rather tiring business and she is determined to escape any more murder and mysteries. So she books into the Grand Hotel in the fashionable resort of Brighton for some fresh air, fish and chips and, of course, a dip in the ocean.
Eleanor is enjoying her view of the waves and trying to find her bathing suit when calamity strikes: a guest has been found dead at her beautiful hotel. The distraught manager, who can’t afford a scandal, asks Eleanor to solve the case as swiftly as possible. Thank goodness she has her partner in crime – Gladstone the bulldog – to help her sniff out the dastardly culprit.
But when Eleanor enters the dead man’s room, she receives a shock big enough to make her forget even the finest ice cream sundae. The body is that of her husband, who supposedly died six years ago on the other side of the world. Has he been alive all these years? Why does he have a copy of their wedding photograph with a cryptic message written on the back? If Eleanor can keep herself safe long enough to find her husband’s killer, she might discover that everything is not quite as it seems beside the seaside…
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.
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” ‘Tis terrible bad luck,’
Lady Eleanor Swift smiled. ‘Really, Polly, whatever do you mean? You’ve no need to back up whenever we happen to meet each other. You could fit six people across the width of each stair with ease.’
‘Musn’t cross on the stairs, your ladyship,’ her young maid whispered. ‘Begging your pardon for saying so, but ’tis terrible bad luck.’ ”
“She’d crossed the world with less luggage. But this was 1921, England, and she was lady of the manor now, and was expected to look, and behave, like a lady. She sighed. The trouble is, Ellie, you really don’t feel like one!”
“Something that is already late, cannot be made late, only later, my lady.”
“I have learned that the scars of lost love can be healed, and one can learn to love again”
“Eleanor sighed, wishing, not for the first time, that she had been born in the future, when society would surely be based on a more equitable footing”
“I’m not the best at being told what to do. Too much time growing up alone, making up my own rules as I went along, I think”
“An utterly addictive English cozy mystery”
If, like myself, you are a firmly entrenched Agatha Christie fan, then this series, rather than seeking to emulate the work of that great lady, fits nicely as a testament and homage to her writing flair and storytelling style. Move over Poirot & Hastings, Tommy & Tuppence, you have company in the wonderful characters and amateur sleuths who are, Lady Swift & Clifford. This book, whilst #5 in the series, works great as a stand alone story, but Oh! how I so wish I had been in on this series from the very beginning. Not to worry though, as I fully intend to make time in my schedule to go back and catch up with all the other ‘Golden Age’ mysteries this intrepid pair have solved, in the short space of time they have been acquainted.
The first chapter set the scene really well, filled in any gaps in the backstory and had me addicted and raring to go, long before the unfolding storyline had even fully kicked in. Then the pages just couldn’t turn themselves fast enough, as I, rather like Lady Swift’s effervescent maid Polly, found myself swept along by the tide of events, towards an ending which was wholesomely complete, personally satisfying and with my batteries recharged ready for my next adventure with this fun-loving, crime-busting, team of cohorts.
This deliciously decadent, multi-layered, traditional mystery, is well researched in respect of timeframe, location and storyline, the latter being well constructed and rich in atmosphere, immediately putting me totally at ease and always at the centre of the action. Authentically written with total and effortless authority and confidence, along with a good dollop of heart and humour, the compelling and entertaining storyline, is rich in detail, fluid and fast paced. However, it transpires that this case is going to be very different and so much more challenging and difficult than any which has gone before. As the investigation unfolds, it has a highly charged, extremely personal and emotionally draining impact on Lady Eleanor (Ellie) Swift, which is treated with the author’s touching and heartfelt compassion, as our amateur sleuth strives to keep her feelings under control and professionally focus on the job in hand, no matter how painful certain aspects of it might be for her.
Eleanor is definitely ahead of her time and forward thinking about how she perceives her inherited wealth and position, and that rather unconstrained joy of life and freedom to flourish, is extended to her small team of staff, who are all treated to a holiday by the sea, as a token of the esteem in which she holds their loyalty and devotion. Murder, intrigue and danger have a habit of following Eleanor around however and not all of it is glamorous or well behaved, so were it not for the careful, almost fatherly ministrations of her devoted butler, loyal companion and crime busting partner, Clifford, who is afforded extra discretionary privileges over the rest of the staff, she might easily find herself in many more difficult and bothersome situations than she does now!
The seaside splendour of period Brighton, the fashion and glamour of its patrons, and the glitz and pomp of the hotels and eateries, are all beautifully and artfully described in lush detail. The visually descriptive narrative, is seamlessly and effortlessly woven together with some astutely observational and often quite sharply witty dialogue, as Eleanor breaks completely with tradition and the mores of the time and personally ensures that her loyal staff have the good time they deserve, so long as she gets to join in with most of it! Similarly, we are also privy to one or two snapshots of Ellie’s past life in the contrastingly harsh, dog-eat-dog atmosphere of a 1920s South Africa, although even Ellie is shocked by the lengths her ex-husband was prepared to go to in search of fame and fortune. I also had to smile at the many short figuratively speaking ‘speech bubbles’ inserted into the narrative, as Ellie is prone to discussing ideas with herself, as she works a problem, it was a very endearing quality.
The new man in Eleanor’s life, who by luck just happens to be a Detective, is fast becoming used to having his authority challenged by this red-headed firecracker, who finds murder and mystery almost everywhere she goes and is always determined in her mission to unmask the criminals at all costs, with or without his help. Is he about to declare his intentions towards Ellie, and has he made a terrible error of judgement in his timing, or will she allow her self-sufficient, independent exterior to show its slightly vulnerable side, despite the blow this case has just dealt her, which has left her slightly reeling and all at sea!
As with all good mysteries, the ‘bad guys’ are instantly recognisable for what they are, with their reprehensibility speaking for itself and needing no further introduction. The red herrings are liberally spread and had everyone, myself included, slipping and sliding all over the place, as suspect lists are written and re-written, with each unfolding snippet of new information. The undoubted stars of the show, Eleanor and her team, were all in all, an exceptional cast of well drawn and perfectly developed characters, totally engaging and relatable, easy to connect with and invest in, with some excellent dynamics and synergy between them. They look out for one another without thought, regardless of individual ‘position’ in the hierarchy, with any problems and vulnerabilities being sympathetically treated and dealt with as a team. Clifford deserves particular mention for his innate ability to assess a situation and plan ahead as to what might be required from him at a moments notice and at any given point in time. I do believe he has rather given up trying to get Eleanor to behave like the ‘Lady of the Manor’ and is now operating in damage limitation mode, to ensure that his hitherto high standards don’t slip too far!
Eleanor and Clifford do have a third partner in their little crime busting operation, although he has four legs, would rather be led in his bed unless enticed out of it with the offer of a sausage or two, and doesn’t really bother much with the chase. Gladstone is a rule unto himself, as I’ll let you discover!
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 4 out of 5 stars!