Author: Cathy Ace
Publication: Severn House, hardcover, 2015
Setting: Present-day WalesDescription: The Dowager Duchess of Chellingworth claims she found a dead body in her dining room in the middle of the night but when her son arrived to check it out, the room was empty. Four women of very different personalities and backgrounds have formed the WISE Enquiries Agency: Carol Hill is Welsh, the Honorable Christine Wilson-Smythe is Irish, Annie Parker is English, and Mavis MacDonald is Scottish. Henry Twyst, Duke of Chellingworth, distantly connected to Christine, hires them to find out if his mother is simply losing her mind. The women – except Carol, the computer maven who is pregnant and stays in London to handle the background research – set off for Chellingworth Estate, set in the Welsh countryside near the small village of Anwen by Wye, which they find is much more dangerous than their Sloan Square office in London . . .
My Impression: I liked the premise of this mystery with the four friends, one older and motherly; one posh; one black and resistant to leaving the familiarity of London, even for a much needed paid investigation; and one computer maven worried about finding a home large enough for a family of three. Yet the only character I really warmed to was Mavis, a former nursing professional, who is sent to befriend the Dowager Duchess at the Dower House to determine if she is senile while Christine susses out Chellingworth Hall and Annie investigates the village for possible murderers. Although all the elements of a cozy village mystery were present: intrepid sleuths, stately home, quirky servants and locals, and even a few wild cards – a suspicious London acquaintance of Annie’s and the mysterious but somewhat appealing Alex Bright – failed to captivate. Disappointingly, the purported Wales setting could have been anyplace. I also found the sleuths unconvincing and often at risk of being overheard by the servants. There were a few entertaining bits – I thought the Duke might provide a romantic element but I was wrong:
As Henry led Christine from the sitting room, he explained that some of the people listed had already left the hall for the day, some worked in other buildings on the estate, and some lived in the village. Christine felt less worried about the village-dwellers, because she knew that Annie was covering that angle, and she determined to try to come up with some sort of plan that would allow for Mavis to help out with those who lived on the estate.When I was in Gloucester in 2018, I saw the River Severn for the first time. It is the longest river in Britain (220 miles) beginning in Wales and flowing through Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Severn is pronounced more like the number 7, so I suppose the publisher, based in London, with a US presence mostly in libraries should also have a silent R.
“Who’s first?” she whispered to Henry as they entered the grand, pillared hall.
“I have no idea,” replied Henry, sounding lost.
Christine stifled a sigh. Why was every man she’d ever met of her class either a buffoon or an ass?
This review is part of the Wales Readathon sponsored by Paula at Book Jotter. The book caught my eye because of the Wales setting although it was not as strong as I had hoped. However, the book concludes with the Duke and his mother offering the WISE team a converted barn on the estate for their new headquarters and later books appear to be set in Wales so one can hope a stronger sense of place was developed by the author, especially as Ace was born and raised in Wales, although now lives in Canada.2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.