A master class in crime writing unintentionally offers a real murder to solve.
Gavin Standforth is using his reputation, based on one highly successful mystery novel, The Long Crippler, to run a weekendlong class at historic Morland Abbey in Devon, England, now a posh hotel. Hilary Masters, a retired teacher with a love for history, and her recently widowed friend, Veronica Taylor, have signed up. As an added attraction, there is an opening session with 92-year-old Dinah Halsgrove, the reigning queen of crime writing. A mixed bag of attendees enjoys Halsgrove’s lecture and the next day’s boat trip on the River Dart, which Halsgrove does not attend for the very good reason that she has been found collapsed. That night, Hilary is disturbed by someone attempting to enter her room; it turns out to be Gavin’s helper, Melissa, who he claims was sleepwalking. Gavin has divided the wannabe authors into three groups—the Toads, the Snakes, and the Slowworms—and he offers a prize to the person who can explain the derivation. He challenges the group to start off their stories with a strong sense of place, and, to that end, they scatter, looking for inspiration. Hilary visits nearby Totnes and follows the mysterious Leechwell Street to three basins served by three springs that a passer-by tells her have healing powers and are called the Toad, the Snake, and the Long Crippler—which is another name for a slowworm. Some students think Halsgrove’s illness is part of a stunt to make the class more interesting, but that idea is quashed when the police arrive asking questions. Hilary and Veronica walk to Totnes to see the well only to find Melissa, who it turns out is Gavin’s wife, lying in the Long Crippler. Hilary’s CPR attempts fail, and this time the police have no doubts it was murder but are not interested in Hilary and Veronica’s theories. Hilary is quite determined to solve the case, but how can she know what might motivate anyone in the disparate group of mystery mavens to kill?
The second (The Wounded Thorn, 2015) in a new series could benefit from some pruning but offers plenty of suspects and does not make it easy to winkle out the killer.