It is perhaps a little embarrassing to be reading the final volume in a series, without having read the preceding 20, but this week I’ve been reading Hazel Holt’s “Death is a Word”, the final Mrs Malory mystery. It is set in the fictional town of Taviscombe (a blending of Tavistock and Wiveliscombe?) in Devon, and Sheila Malory is a retired lady who lives with her dog and cat. (Though only the cat gets a look-in on the cover – wasn’t the dog photogenic enough?)
Sheila’s old friend Eva Jackson has recently retired to live close to her, yet her efforts to put her husband’s old papers in order seemed marred by bad luck. Despite the interest shown in Eva by another recent arrival to the area, Donald Webster, Eva is more concerned with her son and his partner, Patrick. Sheila, and her old friend Inspector Morris, turn to detection one last time to find out why tragedy has followed Eva.
This trips off the page like some fleet-footed insect, beetling on to the next food source – it’s a light read, but there’s a sense of lived experience (in particular, I’d lay money on Mrs Holt having served on a village hall committee or equivalent). It takes a long time to get going, and the first murder is delayed until almost the halfway point, which lessens the suspense rather than increasing it. It seems churlish, however, to quibble, as it was the author’s final book before her death in 2015. I now have the previous 20 to read, as well as her biography of Barbara Pym.