In this novel, an American part-time detective suspects foul play during her Christmas visit to check on her best friend’s daughter in the British village of Abbeyvayle.
Feeling a bit out of sorts after her long journey from California, Betty Grape arrives at the cottage of professor and Mrs. Braithwaite, where Catia Ann Titchell is housesitting for the vacationing couple while working on her dissertation on mold. From the start, when Catia greets her at the snow-covered doorstop wearing only a towel, the elderly woman feels the vague discomfort of something being askew. Once inside, Betty notes the furniture coated in dust and grime. She’s not one to mince words: “Betty dug a fingernail into the thick layer of scum on the arm of her chair. ‘There’s more than enough mold right here to keep you busy for months.’ ” Meanwhile, Catia is fuming over having been slighted by Paul Goodyear, one of two brothers living in a camper in the field across from the house. Then there is the problem of the missing cat, Marmalade, whose collar turns up at the door in a parcel tied with dirty garden twine. Next, an offstage death—possibly a murder—is added to the mystery. All the fixings are in place for a good, old-fashioned cozy, set in a quintessential British town complete with a pub where Betty gets to know the locals. The leisurely pace of this slim volume allows time for readers to absorb the flavor of Abbeyvayle while pondering just what it is that Betty will uncover. Albeit a bit curmudgeonly in her approach to the cultural differences between American and English lifestyles, Betty turns out to be an enjoyable character, feisty with a tender streak. The plot is not overly complicated, but it is ably propelled by dialogue rather than action. Readers who follow the bread crumbs McEwen (Spring Fever, 2016, etc.) scatters along the way will most likely be a step ahead of the protagonist except for a couple of final surprises.
A pleasant diversion and a perfectly sized puzzle for PBS Mystery! fans.