As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
New reviews are posted daily, but to search for earlier reviews please click on the Mystery People link below and select 'reviews' from the welcome page. This will display an alphabetic option for you to find the review you would like to read
For PREVIOUS REVIEWS- Click on MYSTERY PEOPLE below -
Published by Severn House, 31 October 2019. ISBN: 978-7268-8938-6 (HB)
This mystery, set in a Victorian country house in
Shropshire, is the first in a new series by this popular author, featuring
Matthew Rowsley, land agent to the youthful Lord Croft and his mother Lady
Croft. Matthew has only been in his job for two months but there is plenty for
him to do: the estate has been neglected since the old lord’s death and has
become very run-down. He is chiefly concerned with matters concerning the land
of the estate such as the farms, and he has considerable power over the lives
of those who live on the Croft estate. He can, for instance, tell the tenant of
a poorly maintained farm that he must quit. Matthew, however, would much prefer
to deal justly and fairly with the tenants so, for instance, unlike his
predecessor, he has no objection to tenants keeping some animals on their own
account: as Matthew points out to Dr Page, a well-fed worker is a good worker.
Of particular concern
to Matthew is Croft House itself; it is in very poor condition and urgently
needs substantial repairs. But the young Lord Croft is only interested in his
own pleasure and what will bring him immediate profit and, in any case, spends
much of his time away from Croft House as does his mother who suffers from
ill-health and bad temper. Domestic matters in Croft House with its 28 indoor
servants are the responsibility of the butler, Mr Bowman, the housekeeper, Mrs
Faulkner, the housekeeper, and the cook, Mrs Arden. These four, within the
strict hierarchy of the servants of Croft House, are the upper servants and
they enjoy the privilege of taking meals separately to the rest of the servants
in a chamber known as the Room with their own lad to wait on them at table while
the remainder of the staff eat in the servants’ hall. When Lord Crofts and his
mother are in residence, his valet, Luke Hargreaves, and her maid, Mademoiselle
Hortense, join the upper servants. But all the upper servants, while well aware
of their own status, calling each other Mr and Mrs, not by their first names,
and expecting the lower servants to bow and curtsey to them as well as to Lord
and Lady Croft, are concerned for the well-being of all the staff and ensure
that all are well-fed. So, when one of the housemaids, little Maggie Billings, disappears
there is much concern among all the servants. It seems all too likely that she
is pregnant – but who is the father? Matthew instigates a search for her but to
no avail and Maggie’s own mother, denying that there is any cause for concern,
seems less than truthful. Matthew becomes very much aware that there are
secrets within the walls of Croft House, with its many unused rooms, some
locked, and there are whispers that the conduct of Lord Croft and his wild friends
when they are at Croft House leaves much to be desired. However, he cannot
devote much time to investigate Maggie’s disappearance because he is repeatedly
sent off to Lord Crofts’ other estates, to look into what often turns out to be
quite minor matters. Meanwhile, the local clergyman, the Reverend Pounceman,
inveighs against sin and fornication for which he blames women and even
condemns the notion of teaching the ‘lower orders’ to read and write lest that
foster ideas above their station.
Matthew’s search for
Maggie even takes him to Wolverhampton, then in the throes of the Industrial
Revolution, and a very different environment to rural Shropshire; he is
accompanied by Mrs Faulkner for whom he feels a growing attraction. In the end
the mystery is unravelled in a thoroughly satisfactory way.
In the introduction to
this novel, the author tells us that the inspiration for it was the story of
her own great-grandmother who was made pregnant by the son of one of
Shropshire’s richest landowners and was dismissed from her employment. Fortunately,
she survived as did her child, the author’s grandmother. I was very impressed
by the meticulous research that has gone into this account of life below stairs
and also moved by the evidence of the solidarity shown by the members of the
‘lower orders’ to each other in contrast to the total disregard of their
so-called ‘betters’. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Judith Cutlerwas born in the Black Country,
just outside Birmingham, later moving to the Birmingham suburb of Harborne.
Judith started writing while she was at the then Oldbury Grammar School,
winning the Critical Quarterly Short Story prize with the second story she
wrote. She subsequently read English at university. It was an attack of
chickenpox caught from her son that kick-started her writing career. One way of
dealing with the itch was to hold a pencil in one hand, a block of paper in the
other - and so she wrote her first novel. This eventually appeared in a much-revised
version as Coming Alive, published by Severn House. Judith has seven
series. The first two featured amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers (10 books) and
Detective Sergeant Kate Power (6 Books). Then came Josie Wells, a middle-aged
woman with a quick tongue, and a love of good food, there are two books, The Food Detective and The Chinese Takeout. The Lina Townsend
books are set in the world of antiques and there are five books in this series.
There are two books featuring Tobias Campion set in the Regency period, and her
series featuring Chief Superintendent Fran Harman (6 books), and Jodie Welsh,
Rector’s wife and amateur sleuth. Her most recent series features a head
teacher. The first book is Head Start.
Judith has also written two standalone’s Scar TissueandStaging Death.
born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven
years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice.
Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional
work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of
her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published
late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal
flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a
third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology –
and is now concentrating on her own writing.