😀 😀 😀 🙂
Henry Twyst, Duke of Chellingworth, is worried. His mother, the dowager duchess, has phoned him in the middle of the night to say there’s a dead body in the dining room of the Dower House, but when he gets there, no corpse is to be found. At first, he assumes his mother must have dreamt it or worse, that she is beginning to lose her marbles, but when a blood-stained hat is found on the floor he begins to wonder. Since the local police don’t seem to be taking the matter seriously, he calls in the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency; their brief – to discover if the body really existed and, if so, who was it?
This is quite a fun cosy that is obviously intended to be the first of a series. The acronym WISE stands for Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England – the birth places of the four women who run the agency. It’s not really explained how the four came together – there’s a brief mention of them all having been involved in solving an earlier case but that’s all – but there’s plenty of potential for them to develop into a nicely mixed team, so long as Ace can avoid going too far down the road of using rather clumsy national stereotypes. Oddly she only stereotypes the Scot and the Englishwoman (Cockney, of course) – the Irish and Welsh contingent seem to escape. (I believe she is of Welsh origin herself, though now living in Canada, and perhaps she genuinely believes that Scots start every sentence with ‘Och’ and eat haggis every time they get the chance, and that Cockneys call everyone ‘doll’ and go into a decline if they can’t hear the Bow Bells. I suppose when you start life in a country where everyone is called Dai the Post and eats leeks three times a day it’s hard to avoid national stereotyping… 😉 But I feel it was a real pity the Irishwoman never once got to say ‘begorrah’ or hit anyone with her shillelagh.) I am being facetiously unfair – the stereotyping is reasonably low-level and hopefully will disappear completely once the characters’ personalities are more fully developed in later books.
There are two linked crimes in the story – one is very original and quite fun and I won’t spoil it by giving any hints here. The other is the murder which, while it is eventually solved, is left unsatisfactorily explained – it feels as if it got lost along the way as the author got more interested in the other strand. The WISE women’s technique is basically to use their various people skills to get people to let things slip during chit-chat, though one of them is a computer expert who finds a lot of background information online. The chit-chat element is enjoyable and the women are well enough drawn so that we see each of their different personalities affecting how they approach their tasks. The online stuff is much less fun – lengthy typewritten reports full of information that it’s highly unlikely anyone could find online without hacking government websites, which would not be the WISE women’s style at all. I felt this was a way for the author to slip in information that she couldn’t quite see how to have her characters uncover in more credible, and interesting, ways.
Overall, then, there are some weaknesses in the plotting, but the characters are likeable and I suspect will become more so over time as the dynamics amongst them get the chance to develop more fully. And it fulfils well the main function of cosies – to be light and enjoyable to read. First books in series are often tricky since it takes time for characters to be introduced, and since this one has four main protagonists that problem is magnified in this case, but Ace pulled it off well enough that I will certainly be interested in seeing how the series develops. Och aye, I certainly will!
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Severn House.