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Monday 4 January 2021

‘Mystery at the Old Mill’ by Clare Chase

Published by Bookouture,
7 December 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-80019-003-0 (PB)

It is midwinter and obituary writer Eve Mallow is holding open house in her home, Elizabeth’s Cottage, in the Suffolk village of Saxford St Peter, to celebrate the history of her house and its part in village history. This is a bi-annual event during which she escorts a number of visitors around her ancient house. Some of the visitors are long-standing residents of the village, like Eve’s friend Viv at whose teashop Eve helps out, but others are newcomers. One of these is Harry Tennant who has recently bought a converted mill (the Old Mill) for an enormous sum; he is the subject of much curiosity in the village, particularly to Eve who speculates as to what he does for a living. He tells her that he is a ‘consultant, whom people consult about a wide range of problems’ but that tells Eve far too little to satisfy her curiosity. But after Christmas he will be holding open house in his house; then, Eve expects, she can find out more about him.

But the opportunity never arrives because, two days before the planned event, there is a dreadful fire at the Old Mill and Harry dies in the conflagration. Then Eve’s mysterious friend Robin Yardley, now a gardener but recently a police officer, tells Eve confidentially that the police think that the fire was not an accident. Therefore, Harry’s death is murder, and Eve’s sleuthing instincts are immediately aroused. Then she is contacted by Portia Coldwell from Icon magazine who tells her that Harry wrote an agony aunt column under the name of Pippa Longford for a rival magazine – this accounts for the way in which Harry was trying to get everyone he encountered to tell him their secrets, something that with his charm was much too easy.

Eve’s enquiries reveal a whole host of people in Saxford whose inner vulnerabilities Harry had exposed and exploited for his own purposes. In addition, there are those who would benefit from his death in other ways. Eve’s curiosity allied with her sympathetic manner enables her to wander around the village, with her faithful dachshund Gus and from what she can deduce with her observational skills she does arrive at the correct conclusion although at considerable danger to herself.

Cosy crime is a category of crime fiction that, in the UK, is often disregarded but wrongly so. It has always been quietly successful and popular and has a wide readership. Now, however, it seems that the standing of the genre is growing: the current issue of the Crime Writers’ Association house magazine Red Herrings has an appreciation of the crime writer Patricia Wentworth whose Miss Silver mysteries, who solved numerous murders while knitting, entertained millions of readers. And over Christmas 2020 the best-selling work of fiction was not some fiery polemic centred on a current issue but the humorous and very gentle story, The Thursday Club Murders, set in a retirement village where a group of 80-year-olds apply their knowledge and experience to solving murders. Mystery at the Old Mill very definitely falls within that category and will have a wide appeal.

Reviewer: Radmila May


Clare Chase writes fast-paced romantic mysteries, using London and Cambridge as settings. Her influences include JD Robb, Janet Evanovich, Mary Stewart and Sue Grafton. Brought up in the Midlands, she went on to read English at London University, then worked in book and author promotion in venues as diverse as schools, pubs and prisons. More recently she’s exercised her creative writing muscles in the world of PR, and worked for the University of Cambridge. Her current day job is at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Her writing is inspired by what makes people tick, and how strong emotions can occasionally turn everyday incidents into the stuff of crime novels. It would be impossible not to mix these topics with romance and relationships; they’re central to life and drive all forms of drama. When she’s not reading or writing, Clare enjoys drawing, cooking and trips to the Lake District. Closer to home she loves wandering round the pubs, restaurants and galleries of Cambridge where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.

Radmila May was 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.

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