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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

‘Guilt in the Cotswolds’ by Rebecca Tope

Published by Allison & Busby,
May 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-1904-4(HB)

Until I read this book, I never dreamed that house-sitting could be such an exciting – or potentially dangerous – occupation. It’s the fourteenth – yes, the fourteenth – in a series of cosy ‘village mysteries’, in which Thea Osborne takes care of houses for their absent owners, and apparently keeps on tripping over bodies which have met their end by unnatural means.

This time the victim is Thea’s employer, who has availed himself of her services not to house-sit, exactly, but to make an inventory of many decades-worth of intriguing belongings which have accumulated in the former home of his 90-year-old mother. He goes missing when Thea has been in residence for only a day or two, and his body turns up in a picturesque barn which she and her partner Drew decide to explore during a brief excursion.

Was his death suicide, as the police are happy to assume? Or is the truth rather more sinister, and Thea and Drew fear? When various relatives start taking an interest and the family’s past proves to be a mystery in itself, the plot thickens up nicely, with plenty of red herrings.

Rebecca Tope’s first great strength is her characters, who are all the kind who it’s quite possible to imagine having a life off the page. I especially liked Rita, the 90-year-old who takes feistiness to a whole new level; if I reach that venerable age, that’s how I want to be.

Just as well realized is the setting. I don’t know if villages like Chedworth and Blockley actually exist, but they certainly feel as if they could, and doubtless similar places do. Chedworth in particular, with its convoluted lanes and confusing signposts, is the kind of place I’ve been lost in more than once.

Add to that a few circumstantial details like knowledge about ‘green’ burials, and how much an undertaker can deduce about the way a dead body met its end, and the result is a story with plenty of warmth, and a feeling that it’s not necessary to suspend disbelief very far to imagine something similar happening in reality. 

For the lover of cosy crime, this is a series to look for. The implication towards the end was that Thea was about to abandon house-sitting in favour of a different kind of life with Drew; if that’s the author’s true intention, I hope the characters will live on.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Rebecca Tope is the author of four popular murder mystery series, featuring Den Cooper, Devon police detective, Drew Slocombe, Undertaker, Thea Osborne, house sitter in the Cotswolds, and more recently Persimmon (Simmy) Brown, a florist. Rebecca grew up on farms, first in Cheshire then in Devon, and now lives in rural Herefordshire on a smallholding situated close to the beautiful Black Mountains.
Besides "ghost writer" of the novels based on the ITV series Rosemary and Thyme. Rebecca is also the proprietor of a small press - Praxis Books. This was established in 1992

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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