Dark doings mix with Yuletide cheer as mass-market paperback veterans Hugh and Cecily Sinclair Baxter return to Badgers End for another turn at the helm of the Pennyfoot Hotel.
Called away on urgent business, Cecily’s cousin Edward Sandringham begs the Baxters to manage the hotel, now a country club, during the 1912 Christmas season. His pleas are especially urgent since manager Barry Wrotham recently plunged to his death in an abandoned well. Cecily, bored with life in Wimbledon, accepts eagerly, inviting former housemaids Gertie (accompanied by her three-year-olds, Lilly and James) and twins Daisy and Doris, plus former housekeeper Altheda Chubb, to play guests. To add a hint of chaos to the festivities, she asks her ever-feuding friends Phoebe and Madeline to collaborate in producing a pantomime. At the Pennyfoot, Cecily finds the new housemaids, sulky Jeannette and tongue-tied Moira, under the ineffective supervision of bleak Mrs. Bunkle, barely adequate to keep up with the demands of guests—especially four London magistrates and their elegant wives. When Jeannette’s body turns up in a garden shed, it’s as inevitable that Gertie, Daisy, Doris, and Mrs. Chubb will be pressed back into service as it is that Cecily, against Hugh’s firm admonitions, will launch an investigation that could add her name to the list of victims.
Busy Kingsbury skims over the scenes that should be the funniest in this overpopulated country-house-murder entry.