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Thursday, 13 August 2015
‘Murder at Honeychurch Hall’ by Hannah Dennison
Published by Minotaur Books,
When Kat Stanford's father was dying, Kat promised him that she'd look after her mother, Iris. She did not think it would be an arduous task; her mother was quiet and self-effacing, rarely going out and dependant on her father to drive her. Kat decided to quit her job as a host on a popular antiques show and open an antiques shop in London with her mother. This was not a great sacrifice as Kat disliked her celebrity status.
To Kat's disbelief and dismay, instead of fitting meekly into this plan, Iris announces that she has moved to Devon and purchased a dilapidated (in Kat's opinion derelict) coach house on the Honeychurch Hall estate. To make things worse, Iris has suffered a series of accidents, which have resulted in several injuries, including a broken hand. Iris claims that these accidents were deliberately engineered by a thuggish neighbour who wishes to scare her away from the Coach House and take over ownership. Kat is certain that grief has destroyed her mother's mental health and heads to Devon to sort her out. To her astonishment, she discovers that her mother has many secrets. The more minor of these is that she can drive, and she prefers to drink gin and tonic rather than the Blue Nun that everybody assumed was her only alcoholic indulgence. However, Iris' greatest secret is the lucrative career that she has pursued, without any of her family knowing, for much of her married life, which has earned her enough money to enable her to purchase and restore the Coach House.
As Kat tries to accustom herself to this new, independent mother, she begins to wonder about her mother's love of the countryside and the reasons behind her choice of her new home. While Kat wants her mother to return to London, she soon realises that Iris is correct about the nature of the 'accidents' that have injured her, and Kat has no intention of allowing the locals to bully Iris into leaving because they have designs on her home. The local community is more than close-knit; it seems as if everybody is related to everybody else and is bound together by blood-ties and ancient secrets. When a young nanny disappears and a local woman is murdered, Kat fears that the local police will use an outsider as a scapegoat rather than probe too deeply into the actions of the Honeychurch family and their dependants, and as the police officers focus their suspicions on Iris, it seems that Kat's fears are justified.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall is the first in a new series and it is sure to be a winner. Kat is a likeable if sometimes biased narrator, and the story has the charm of a country house/village mystery, including a suitably unlikeable victim. However, it also has the added spice of contemporary hazards such as social media and the threat of a savage television programme that exposes celebrity secrets. Murder at Honeychurch Hall is definitely a page-turner.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
Hannah Dennison is the author of the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries and the Vicky Hill Mysteries, both set in Devon, England. She has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. Hannah originally moved to Los Angeles from England to pursue screenwriting and now lives in Portland, Oregon. She continues to teach mystery writing at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and still works for a west coast advertising agency. Hannah is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, The Crime Writers Association, The Historic Houses Association, the National Trust and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. She enjoys hiking, horseback riding, skiing, theater and seriously good chocolate.
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher. She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames. Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times. The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.