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TO PERISH IN PENZANCE
by Jeanne M. Dams
Walker & Co., August 2001
$23.95
ISBN: 0802733670


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I need to preface this review by saying that I am an ardent anglophile and I have loved this series since the very first book. So I am hardly an unbiased reviewer (but then, who is?). I like the fact that Ms. Dams chose to make her protagonist an American (also an anglophile) who, no matter how many years she lives there, will always be something of an outsider. It is hard to an American to write authentic books about

England, but any misconceptions or blunders can be excused by the fact that Dorothy Martin is American.

Dorothy has lived in Sherebury since moving to England after her husbandís death. She has stumbled over several corpses and solved or helped solve the mystery of these deaths. In the process she got to know Chief Constable Alan Nesbitt and eventually married him. Alan is now retired and, as he says, is learning to become an amateur sleuth.

He mentions to Dorothy one evening that he had failed to solve his first murder case, that of a young woman whose body was found in a smugglerís cave outside Penzance in Cornwall. He had failed even to identify the body and the case still haunted him. Dorothy, bored in the constant rain, conceived a plan to vacation in Cornwall and perhaps dig up some information about that old case. Alan agrees.

Now comes the part that is a little hard to swallow. When Dorothy and Alan visit that cave, they discover another body, that of a young woman they had just gotten to know. If you take a deep breath and just leap over that giant coincidence, the rest of the book is well plotted and most appealing to read. It will not surprise you to learn that the two

amateur sleuths manage to solve the thirty year old crime as well as the most recent one.

One of the things I admire about these books is that, although they are ìcozies,î they never trivialize the crime of homicide or forget about the victim and the horror of the act of murder. The dead person never becomes simply the object of an intriguing puzzle. We learn about the victims and cannot help but have compassion for them.

As I said this is a traditional mystery. A murder happens which upsets the balance of the world and the sleuths search for solutions to restore balance and rid the town of evil. The violence happens off stage and while we have empathy for the victims we do not have to view the grisly events which constitute the crime.

There is a good sense of place, at least of the nostalgic England in which many of us would like to believe. Cornwall is a fascinating region of England, every bay and hill resonating with magic and enchantment. But, as Dorothy says, ì{t}he beauty . . . was a bright screen hiding darker corners.î Dams knows, as well as we do, that there is evil abroad and picturesque little villages are not what they seem. Murder is wrong

and must be stopped.

Reviewed by Sally Fellows

Dorothy Martin, now married to retired Chief Constable Alan Nesbitt, is tired of the rain in Sherebury, so she gets Alan talking about his early life. He's from Cornwall, and he tells her of the body of a young woman, found in a cave near Penzance in 1968. Alan was from Cornwall and he was just beginning his climb up the hierarchy of the police force when the mysterious blonde was located.

Dorothy suggests that they take a short vacation, and although they have been married only a relatively short time, Alan realizes she wants to go to Cornwall and see if there's any way to solve the mystery, so he books them into a good hotel in Penzance and off they go.

They share a table in the dining room with a woman and her young daughter. Alan and Dorothy go sightseeing and, by chance, meet an old acquaintance of Alan's, a man who had been a policeman in Cornwall just before Alan was transferred up and out. He came into an inheritance shortly after Nesbitt left and is now a very wealthy man, patron of several charities, and a father and grandfather. Boleigh invites the couple to a musical evening at his home the next night. Alan demurs, offering as an excuse their lack of formal wear, but John Boleigh insists.

The next morning, Dorothy inveigles the young woman, Alexis Adams, to go shopping with her for a new dress. Lexa is a famous fashion model and she and Dorothy have a wonderful time. Dorothy invites Lexa to come with them to the party, and even buys her a dress. A couple of days later, Lexa is found dead in the same cave in which the unknown woman had been found over 30 years before.

This is a very good series if you are looking for something that is not too demanding. The mystery isn't too complicated, but the characters are engaging and Dams conceit of using an American widow as her protagonist makes it possible for her to feed information to the reader in an inoffensive way. There are several other books in the series and each takes place in a different part of the United Kingdom, allowing for variety.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, August 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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