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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review - Fatal Winter

The debut novel in this new series by G. M. Malliet was reviewed (click here), and now it is time for the second book.  The first book was received well so let's see how well this one does in meeting reader's expectations.   This book was chosen by Library Journal as a Best Mystery of 2012.  Find out what I thought of it below.  I must apologize for getting behind in my reading.  I am trying to catch up and get back on track.

Author: G. M. Malliet

Copyright: October 2012 (Minotaur Books) 384 pgs

Series: 2nd in Max Tudor Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Traditional Mystery

Main Characters: Max Tudor, Anglican priest and former MI5 agent

Setting: Modern day, Nether Monkslip England and Chedrow Castle

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Seventy-five-year-old Oscar, Lord Footrustle, has invited all of his dysfunctional family to spend the holiday season at Chedrow Castle with him, his twin sister Lady Baynard, and her adopted grand-daughter Lamorna.  Greed and entitlement abound as the relatives are each trying to get into Lord Footrustle's good graces, and thus his will.  But when both Lord Footrustle is found stabbed to death and his sister dead in the flower hot-house, the local law enforcement heading up the investigation asks for Father Max to assist.  Father Max, in an improbable move, becomes a guest staying at the castle, chatting up the suspects, and sitting in during official questioning sessions.  All the family members are forced to stay at the castle while the investigation proceeds, creating tensions and tempers.

This is the classic English country house mystery in the Miss Marple tradition.  There are no car chases or explosives, no nail biting suspense, just a puzzle to be worked among a specific number of people - who committed the murder and how did they pull it off.  A large part of the book is the piecing together who was where, and the timing of the deaths.  Most everybody has a motive, so the focus is on opportunity and means. 

Father Max Tudor has a lot of potential and only some of it was displayed in this second book.  His MI-5 background that drove him to a "paying-it-back" life as an Anglican (non-celibate) priest allows for a more enlightened and progressive view of the pagan love interest Awena.  Unfortunately, his background did not seem to provide much insight into murder until the very end.  His only benefit is that people will talk more openly to a priest, theoretically.  I expected a modern version of Brother Cadfael, but I was wrong.  I would like to see his MI-5 training to be more instrumental, like Cotton Malone or Oliver Stone of the Camel Club, even if more along a cozy plot-line rather than suspense.  I am looking for Max Tudor to reach his potential as a character, then he will be compelling, but currently he is an okay character.  I felt the character Awena was displayed to better advantage than Father Max.  The unlikely and improbable relationship between them is a nice side story that adds to the storyline.

The setting of Chedrow Castle and the small country town of Nether Monkslip are well done backdrops.  The traditional English country house style provided a good puzzle, but lacked a sense of immediacy to engage the reader through the slightly slow middle.  That somewhat dragging middle is a common trap in traditional mystery plots.  Typically the characters will keep the reader's interest and pick-up the pace through these investigative slow parts.  The suspects are all too dysfunctional and unlikable, and the regular cast of townspeople are removed from the castle, so the characters did not carry the slower investigation parts.

The killer confrontation was done during a gathering of all the suspects where Father Max presents his theory of events and who the killer is.  This is how the first book revealed the killer, so this seems to be the signature confrontation method, a la "Ellery Queen."  This falls within the traditional mystery concept easily, but I still prefer a blood pumping confrontation.  The wrap-up is tender and heartwarming, while giving some complications for future books.

This is a traditional British country house mystery with a few twists in the plot.  The main focus being the investigation among a dysfunctional family all cloistered in a castle.  Some humor and romance are sprinkled throughout and the main character has yet to reach his full potential, so readers can watch him come into his own as the series develops.

Rating: Good - A fun read with minor flaws. Maybe read an excerpt before buying - particularly if you aren't a fan of traditional British country house mysteries.

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Unknown said...

I agree with your review! Although I loved Wicked Autumn, I was disappointed by Fatal Winter. The characters felt contrived and flat. Having said that, I will definitely be ordering the next book in the series when it becomes available. I still think this series has great possibilities.

PS I wonder if you've read either of the Father Christmas books? Lots of parallels!

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