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by Rebecca Tope
Allison & Busby, October 2006
288 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749082682

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Thea Osborne has passed the one-year mark in widowhood and is finding some peace working as a house sitter for vacationing families. She’s presently in residence at Juniper Court in the Cotswold countryside, watching the house, barns, and animals of Julia and Desmond Phillips. The Phillips family is barely gone when tragedy strikes the household. Milo, the Phillips’ Siamese cat, is killed on the road by a passing motorist. Unsure what to do, Thea wraps the cat in a blanket and places him in a freezer to await the return of the family.

The cat’s death seems small compared to the next unpleasant event to happen at Juniper Court. Thea finds the Phillips’ pony loose in the paddock when she returns from a walk with her spaniel Hepzibah. The pony refuses to return to the barn, and for good reason. The body of a young man is hanging from the rafters there, the apparent victim of suicide.

Soon the place is crawling with police, one of them already known to Thea from a previous house-sitting experience. Superintendent Phillip Hollis is definitely falling for Thea, as she is for him. But business comes first for the policeman, especially when its decided that Nick Franklyn didn’t take his own life, but was murdered.

Thea becomes a prime witness when she tells Hollis that she saw Nick near a barn on a neighbor’s land the very day she arrived at Juniper Court. The neighbor’s three sons become suspects when it’s learned that they, like Nick, were members of the Rural Warriors, a group opposed to the restoration of a nearby canal.

Did the Warriors have a falling out over tactics, or was there a woman involved in the picture? Thea tries to sort out the clues while also helping her sister Jocelyn. Jocelyn has arrived at Juniper Court after being beaten by her husband. Vowing not to return home, she moves in with Thea, even though their relationship is strained due to old antagonisms. The two women squabble their way through several days of further unpleasantness at Juniper Court, including a break-in by a neighborhood youth and the discovery of a rotting animal corpse in the barn. Superintendent Hollis appears more frequently and sparks continue to fly between him and Thea.

Rebacca Tope’s second Thea Osborne tale is a classic British village mystery with all the usual odd neighbors, close-mouthed pub attendees, and quirky goings-on. The defunct canal is central to the mystery, but while hinting at deaths in the past, the author never quite informs the reader as to why the villagers are so opposed to its restoration.

Thea and Jocelyn are a strange pair, more often than not at odds with each other over life, love, and what’s important to each of them. For example, upon hearing that her brother-in-law beat Jocelyn, Thea immediately asks: “What did you do to him?” Her question didn’t endear Thea to this reviewer, but her viewpoint is probably not so far off from that of many people.

What bothered me the most in this story was the shallowness of the emotions conveyed by the main characters. It was as if both Thea and Jocelyn had bought into the stiff upper lip business to the nth degree. At the same time, Thea’s feelings for her dog seemed greater than her feelings for her sister. While this book wasn’t my cup of tea, I’d recommend it for those who love the Cotswolds area of England.

Reviewed by Mary V. Welk, March 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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