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by Hazel Holt
Signet, January 2003
246 pages
ISBN: 0451208099

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sheila Malory is primarily a homemaker, even though she is a widow and her only child, Michael, is grown and married. She did, however, get her degree in English literature and has written well-regarded books on the subject. Her much older friend, Leonora Staveley, was a pioneering foreign correspondent who eventually gave it all up and isolated herself in the English countryside. When Leonora dies she leaves her books and papers to Sheila, perhaps hoping Sheila will produce a book. She plans to, but meanwhile Leonora's death nags at her. Leonora's cottage was not the most sanitary, but there seems no source for the fatal e. coli bacteria in the water that is the official cause of death. The cottage, on the Staveley estate, reverts to Leonora's brother who wants to build a Leisure Center and was blocked by Leonora's refusal to move.

The next surprise is that Leonora's will leaves almost everything to the travel writer Marcus Bourne, whom she had never met. He comes to settle the estate and there turns out to be good reason for the will and for Marcus to resent Leonora. Having lived around the less developed places of the world he would surely know how to poison the water. Rumors that Leonora planned to write her memoirs point to the existence of other suspects whose bodies might have suddenly come unburied by a memoirs volume.

The most interesting characters, aside from the narrator, are Leonora Staveley and Marcus Bourne. One of the few flaws in the book is Mrs. Malory's relationship with Marcus: first she distrusts him with little reason, and then trusts him with as little justification.

The setting, a small town in a modernizing England, is well drawn. Sheila and her friends go to trendy new eateries in local towns, and she even undertakes to use a computer (without much success). Yet modernization has its limits - she worries about setting her thatched roof on fire.

Mrs. Malory and Death by Water is the thirteenth in Hazel Holt's Mrs. Malory series. It is a solid entry and will be especially appreciated by fans of the British cozy.

Reviewed by Mary A. Axford, November 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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