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Thursday, 11 March 2021

‘Murder Is a Must’ by Marty Wingate

Published by Berkley Prime Crime,
30 October 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-9848-0413-6 (HB)

Setting a novel in England gives any American author an extra few hurdles to jump in terms of language and culture, but Marty Wingate finds it less of a problem than some. Though a native of Seattle, she lives and works in the UK as a tour guide, and Bath is clearly a city she knows well.

That’s where the First Edition Library is located, and though both it and the exhibition centre which forms the novel’s other main location are fictional, most places mentioned in this well researched cosy mystery are real – including, one hopes, the Bertinet bakery, whose pastries will make any mystery lover’s mouth water.

But a vivid setting and scrumptious croissants aren’t the only thing to enjoy. The First Edition Library is a cornucopia of Golden Age mysteries, and protagonist Hayley Burke is its curator. The library is the legacy of Lady Fowling, a lover of the Golden Age herself, and Hayley is trying to mount an exhibition to celebrate her life and raise awareness of the vast collection. 

She strikes lucky with a venue, then she needs an exhibition manager. Luck is with her there too; the brilliant but demanding Oona Atherton is available. And best of all, she finds evidence of the existence of a first edition of Dorothy L Sayers’s Murder Must Advertise signed by every contemporary member of the Detection Club: the perfect centrepiece. To make the exhibition a success, all Hayley has to do is create some office space in a room reached by a spiral staircase, keep Oona sweet, and find the book.

Then it all goes horribly wrong. Naturally, or there wouldn’t be a story. Oona’s murdered body is found at the bottom of the spiral stairs, in a mirror image of the crime in Murder Must Advertise. Her replacement proves to be even more of a nightmare than Oona herself, and worse, the book is nowhere to be found.

Hayley’s frantic efforts to keep the exhibition on track, find the book and solve the murder are ably aided by a motley crew of sharply drawn characters: Mrs Woolgar, the frosty secretary of the library committee; Clara, Oona’s bright but nervous PA; Val, Hayley’s supportive boyfriend; assorted committee members, daughters and policemen; and best of all, Zeno Berryfield, substitute exhibition manager, who takes flamboyance and self-importance to a new level. Of the minor players I especially enjoyed Dom, whose autistic tendencies prove unexpectedly useful.

Murder is a Must is a lighthearted read which will keep you turning the pages if not exactly on the edge of your seat. Like all good cosies, it isn’t heavy on gore and violence, and there’s plenty of domestic, romantic and culinary detail to leaven the mystery. And of course, it all turns out well in the end. Definitely a must, especially for devotees not only of well-crafted cosies but also of Golden Age mysteries.
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Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based author and speaker about gardens and travel. She is the author of The Garden Plot, first in the Potting Shed mystery series (Alibi, May 2014) as well as Perennials for the Pacific Northwest (Sasquatch Books) and Landscaping for Privacy (Timber Press). Marty’s garden articles appear in a variety of publications, including Fine Gardening, American Gardener, Country Gardens, and Gardening How-to. You can hear her on the podcast A Dry Rain, available free from iTunes. She leads garden tours to European and North American destinations.  Marty writes three series. Murder is a Must is the second in the First Edition Library series.

martywingate.com/

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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