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by Rebecca Tope
Allison & Busby, January 2007
288 pages
ISBN: 0749081260

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Thea Osborne accompanies Detective Superintendent Phil Hollis to Cold Aston, a village in the Cotswolds, to clean out Greenhaven, a house willed to him by a deceased aunt. The first person she meets there is Ariadne, a girlhood friend of Phil who has long had a crush on him.

Ariadne is a jack-of-all-trades, the daughter of a sheep farmer who now earns a living spinning, weaving, and knitting wool into rugs, wall hangings, and clothing. Ariadne was a neighbor, friend, and caregiver to Philís Aunt Helen, and is not at all happy that Phil plans to dispose of Helenís household goods in what she considers a desultory manner. Sheís also not sure she likes Thea, a woman very unlike herself and one who has obviously captured Philís heart. It takes a while for Ariadne to warm up to Thea and her ever-present dog Hepzibah, but eventually they form a cautious friendship.

Things go amiss in Cold Aston almost immediately after Thea and Philís arrival. Along with Ariadne, the two discover a cache of Masonic paraphernalia in the attic at Greenhaven. The secret is soon out that Phil was once a Mason. He joined the organization at the behest of his wife, but quit soon afterward, shortly before his divorce from Caroline. Phil is shaken by the discovery and quickly removes the material from the house.

Ariadne has little to do with the many Masons in the neighborhood, believing their practices to be trite and silly. Instead, she is deeply involved with a pagan group that is currently preparing for Samhain, an autumn holiday equivalent to Halloween. Ariadne and her friends are planning a ceremony to be held at Notgrove Barrow, an ancient burial place near the village. Their plans go on hold when Gaynor, a young woman who knits coats for Ariadne, is found dead on the Barrow, a knitting needle thrust through her heart.

Phil is called upon to supervise the case, leaving Thea alone to pack up Aunt Helenís goods. With time on her hands, Thea turns to Ariadne for companionship. Ariadne, who is deeply distraught over the death of her friend, welcomes the chance to share her thoughts on the murder with Thea.

When the two women investigate on their own, Ariadne learns how little she actually knew about her friend. She becomes convinced that Gaynor was killed by a member of her pagan group, even though Phil is unwilling to agree with her and Thea remains noncommittal. It is only after attending a horse fair with Thea that Ariadne begins to suspect the true reason for the murder.

This latest Thea Osbourne adventure is a classic British village mystery with an unusual female protagonist as narrator. Ariadne is almost eccentric in her lifestyle. She has a strong belief system centering on nature, owns few material possessions, and is impatiently blunt but an obvious natural leader. While her own emotions run deep, she is naÔve when it comes to recognizing and reacting to the emotions of others. The opposite of Thea in every way, Ariadne makes for a strange but likeable companion to the seriesí main character and an excellent choice as story narrator.

Thea, who can sometimes get on the readerís nerves with her simpering attitude toward her dog, takes a back seat to Ariadne in this tale. Still, she remains an integral part of the mystery because she forges a link between amateur sleuth Ariadne and police detective Hollis. This connection works well for the author, allowing her to highlight the interesting personality of Ariadne while remaining true to her original protagonist, Thea Osbourne.

Tope also succeeds in moving her series forward by exploring Phil Hollisí past history as it affects his relationship with Thea. And while the plot is linked to paganism and Masonic beliefs, the author doesnít overwhelm readers with a treatise on either subject. Instead, she uses them to form a basis for the mystery, then lets her characters decide what about them is important to the story and what is not. Topeís blending of research, restraint, and a fascinating protagonist narrator makes this story a winner for fans of British mysteries.

Reviewed by Mary V. Welk, April 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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