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by Hazel Holt
Signet, June 2002
246 pages
ISBN: 0451206274

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When Margaret Hood, an English teacher at the well-regarded Blakeneys School in Birmingham, England, dies unexpectedly, Sheila Malory reluctantly agrees to take on her students for the rest of the term. Mrs. Malory, a literary scholar, is nervous about teaching the seventh form (senior) English class since she has little teaching experience. She is also apprehensive because her old friend Laura Webster, the teacher at Blakeneys who solicited Mrs. Malory's help, has told her that the girls in the class are both brilliant and a bit strange. Mrs. Malory is relieved to find that her job is easier than she thought it would be, but she has new worries when the school's headmistress, Felicity Robertson, dies suddenly. The police suspect murder, and Mrs. Malory, who has a knack for solving mysteries, agrees to help with the case.

Mrs. Malory is a pleasant character, something of a modern-day Miss Marple. A widow rather than a spinster, she seems both proud of her sleuthing skills and a little embarrassed by them. When she meets a local policeman who has heard of her from a common acquaintance, she suggests that the acquaintance might have described her as an "interfering old bat". Like Miss Marple, she conducts her inquiries gently but adeptly; although she is afraid of intruding or offending when questioning a suspect, her curiosity usually gets the better of her and she asks the questions anyway. Mrs. Malory is interested in art and music as well as literature, and her interests and her personality make her a companionable protagonist.

The questions about Felicity's death are dealt with methodically, almost too much so. Many of the staff at Blakeneys had reasons for disliking the headmistress; Mrs. Malory proceeds through each character's motive and opportunity, ruling them out one by one. I would have liked a bit more ambiguity in this area; I prefer to come to the end of the story with more options than were left in this case. At the same time, there were so many characters with motives that I had a little trouble keeping track of them all. Still, I enjoyed the book very much; it is a perfect British cozy, complete with teas, a friendly cat, and a tidy ending. I also liked the school setting, and I thought that the descriptions of Birmingham were well done. Readers who enjoy this type of book will not want to miss Mrs. Malory's latest case.

Reviewed by Kathleen Chappell, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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