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by Hazel Holt
Signet, July 2003
246 pages
ISBN: 0451209206

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Mrs. Sheila Malory is almost the Miss Marple of today. She is on the far side of middle age, with a new grand-baby. She either has a nice retirement plan or was left "well off" when her husband died, because she has no visible means of support. She lives in a small town, knows just about everyone, and seems to have some kind of connection to just about every grapevine in town. She owns (or is owned by) a cat and a dog, both of them also in the tail ends of their respective middle ages.

Tris the dog and Foss the cat are her connection, at least at first, to the murder and the mystery in Death in Practice. Malcolm Hardy is the new vet in town, brought in by Diana when one of the partners left to set up his own practice and a rather large influx of ready cash was required. Malcolm is an unpleasant character, which would be tolerable if he was a great vet, but he isn't. He brings his girlfriend Julie into the practice, in no small part to have her spy on the rest of the help. He fires one of the long-time vets, Ben Turner, who handles the large animals; that's not where the money is these days. This is a real problem for Ben because his wife is in a local nursing home with Alzheimer's; he doesn't want to move her and doesn't have the money to stay without this job. Malcolm treats the vet techs like scum, sucks up to the clientele, and is generally a smarmy guy. No surprise when he winds up dead on his office floor.

The obvious problem has nothing to do with motive - it seems everyone he dealt with on anything more than a superficial level had at least one reason or another to want him dead. His sister June inherits a chunk of money. Diana gets her practice back, and another shot at finding a more amenable partner. One of the vet techs, the daughter of an annoying friend of Mrs. Malory, gets to keep her romance with Ben Turner quiet for just a little while longer. Julie might have killed him because he dumped her for another woman, Claudia Drummond, the wife of a prominent orthopedic surgeon. Claudia might have killed him because he wanted her to leave the husband and marry him; Dr. Drummond might have killed Malcolm because he was the latest in a long string of lovers and the straw that broke the camel's back. And the list goes on.

Mrs. Malory, in the midst of her fairly active life, keeps running into all the people connected to the killing. They all are willing to talk to her, some in more detail than others, about Malcolm and the murder. She makes some telephone calls, visits elderly relatives of friends, and cogitates. She enjoys her grand-baby Alice, she is delighted when her son Michael and his wife Thea decide not to move to London, and she is proud of herself for making a concerted effort NOT to influence their decision. She Christmas shops, she goes to a local light opera production. And somehow, while leading her normal life, she comes to know who killed Malcolm.

I was a little taken aback by the way Mrs. Malory handles her knowledge of who the killer is. I'm not sure it will work out as nicely as we are supposed to think it does. But Mrs. Malory has a much longer-standing relationship with the killer than we do, as readers, and we must trust that she knows what she is doing. Sheila Malory is a delightful woman, a woman I wouldn't mind having for a friend. I'm not at all sure that I'd like to get on her bad side, however.

If you enjoy the traditional British cozy, if you like sneaking peeks into the lives of relatively normal people who are in unusual situations, if becoming caught up in the lives of a continuing cast of characters is your cup of tea . . . Mrs. Malory and her friends are right up your alley. There are three other Mrs. Malory books for your enjoyment: Mrs. Malory and Death by Water, and the Delay of Execution, and the Lilies that Fester. I'll keep an eye out for these books, and I'll probably buy them when I run across them.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, July 2003

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