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by C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, September 2008
216 pages
ISBN: 0738713597

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Since Scottish barrister Rex Graves has nowhere else to go for Christmas, he accepts an invitation from his mother's old friend, Dahlia Smithings, a widow and the mother of a soldier lost in Iraq to go to her family manor turned hotel, Swanmere Manor, for the holidays. Fighting a blizzard, he turns his tennis racquets into hand made snow shoes and manages to walk to the manor. Once there he learns that an elderly guest at the hotel died the night before after eating a teacake.

After meeting his fellow guests, all now captives of the great storm, he learns from one of them, an EMS worker that the old man may have been murdered by arsenic in his cake.

Being a good man and a barrister, Rex takes it upon himself to investigate the murder quietly until the police can make their way to the manor. Meanwhile all the phones are out with only the occasional message getting in over the cell phones.

When yet another guest, a book editor from America, is murdered outright, Rex sees that he must hurry and find the reason for the deaths and the identity of the guilty party before more guests are waylaid by the killer.

This is the first in a new series called the Rex Graves Mysteries and it has all the classic details of the very best cozies. A group of people who don't seem to have any connection to each other are all stuck in an isolated manor, unable to get out or to call for help because of a snowstorm. The characters we meet are modern people, a newlywed couple who seem to be having marital difficulties already, an annoying book editor from America, two men in a long term relationship along with others including the elderly Second World War hero who was the first to die. Making the story fit in modern times we learn that the lady of the manor has been a bit unhinged by her son's death as a soldier in Iraq and the book the editor had been working on was about the American President George W. Bush.

I found most of this book to be delightful in its old-fashioned ways. That the people are all stuck in an old manor as a blizzard roars outside and a killer goes about his or her business was fun. I especially liked that they were all called together to find out who the guilty party was.

Unfortunately, there were two terrible weaknesses in this book that the writer must do something about before she continues the series. I wish the whole reason for the murders had been stronger and in one scene the writer had the main character, whose mind had been an open book to the readers from the start of the story, suddenly hide his real reason for what he was doing. The saddest thing was that this bit of deceit was not even needed.

As long as the author keeps her reasons for her story clear and strong, this has all the signs of being a very good series that will entertain readers for years to come.

Reviewed by A.L. Katz, November 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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